When I attend the state fair, I expect to see a lot of youth having a great time and spending time with their friends. That is not all I found on the last day of the junior dairy show at the Wisconsin State Fair this year.
As I walked through the barns, I spotted some animal rights activists camped in the middle of the dairy barn shouting and chanting their beliefs while shaking their protest signs. They were critical of dairy cattle handling and care, but not 10 feet away were Holstein calves resting peacefully in a foot of clean straw, chewing their cud with hay and water within reach.
They chanted their rhetoric and shook their signs for about 10 minutes. Their audience was pretty small. It included the young people who were on barn duty for the nearby animals. Also present were other youth exhibitors who came to see what all the noise was about. They pulled out their cellphones to tape the event.
The fair administration was contacted and arrived at the scene. The group was promptly escorted from the barn. Any protesters were told ahead of time that no pubic demonstrations could be done in the barn where the youth were caring for their animals. They obviously did not follow the rules.
The ag youth were also cautioned about posting the video they recorded on their social media channels, as this would only promote the protesters' agenda.
One of the youth exhibitors was more disturbed by their actions than the others. I asked her why. She replied that the leader of the protesters had approached her earlier in the afternoon and was very pleasant. "He was a middle-aged man with an accent. He asked about 4-H and FFA, said thank you, and then walked away."
I wondered if the tone of the conversation or his behavior might have tipped her off that something was a bit odd. "Not at all. It never even crossed my mind that he was an animal rights activist," replied the 18-year-old.
Curious to her response, I dug deeper, "Does this change the way you handle future questions?"
"No, over my past six years at state fair this was my first encounter. I'll definitely have to be even more cautious with my word choices, but just because one guy took advantage of me that doesn't mean all of the other fairgoers are like that, too," stated the state FFA public speaking champion.
While we are often encouraged to talk to fairgoers and share our stories about our animals with consumers, these situations remind us that everyone who seems curious may have ulterior motives. However, it should not deter our good intentions to talk about food animal care with consumers who are generally interested in learning more from us.
This is a followup blog to yesterday's post, Activist groups target youth groups, too.
The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.