There are two 4-H clubs in the Danville/Alamo area: Tassajara and Tassajara Valley. The first one participates in the Contra Costa County Fair, already past, while Tassajara Valley 4-H shows at the Fair in Pleasanton. I tracked down "Ms. 4-H" herself, aka Laura Vaughn, who is community leader for Tassajara Valley 4-H. She grew up in a semi-rural area off Stone Valley Road and is a 1986 graduate of Monte Vista High. Her husband Mike Mabery was a neighbor and is a '79 grad.
"We did it all as kids - goats, sheep, horses," recalled Laura, who now lives off Green Valley Road and is a Realtor. She also owns racehorses so during Fair time she splits her time between the livestock area and the racetrack.
The Tassajara Valley 4-H Club has families from this area plus Lafayette and Moraga, Laura told me. The 4-H livestock projects include seven species: steers, swine, dairy goats, market goats, market lambs, horses and dairy cows. Her 14-year-old daughter Mercedes Antonini showed dairy goats this year and won Grand Champion, Best Udder and Best Doe in Show. Entries are also judged on the owner's showmanship - how well they handle the animal and answer questions.
"My daughter got her goat at 10 days old and it is now 4 years old," Laura said. "It's a long-term project."
Her son Jake also is raising a goat but he's too young to join 4-H. Jake just turned 4 last week. Laura recalled being nine months pregnant while working at the Fair; the commercial breeders assured her they could deliver a baby safely but she made it to a hospital - and returned three days later with Jake.
On the last day of the Fair, the 4-H animals are auctioned off, starting with the rabbits, then the steers, followed by the swine, sheep and market goats, which were added last year. Laura said her daughter works all year to find her buyers and they contribute at $10-$12 a pound. If buyers aren't solicited, the animals can sell for as little as $2.50 a pound, which would not cover the cost of raising an animal.
"The whole point is to teach these kids how to be businesspeople, raising their animals for a purpose," Laura explained. "They need to tell the community, 'This is what I'm doing. I need your support.'"
When the animals are bought at auction, the kids run the papers to the buyer to be signed and find out where they want the animal shipped, and if they want it live or processed. Laurie said 4-H Boosters make sure each animal is purchased. The only animals that return home with the 4-H kids are those the judges say are not "market ready." In order to be auctioned, or even to be shown, the animals have to "make weight," which is between 100 and 165 pounds for a sheep.
The animals are sent to a processing plant near Vacaville, then the meat goes to a place in Ripon that is FDA-regulated to be packaged as sausage, steaks, ground meat or whatever the buyer specifies. "It comes vacuum sealed and ready for the freezer," said Laurie. She picks up the meat and personally delivers it to the buyers.
The Vacaville butchers are the final judges of the meat, according to how much fat they have to cut away, and these awards are given at a "carcass contest" dinner in September. Laurie said one year Mercedes had a lamb that placed between the middle to the end at the Fair but was sixth out of 250 lambs in the carcass contest.
"She went back and called her buyer and let them know, 'You are eating really good meat,'" recalled Laura.
4-H projects also include photography, rocketry, cooking arts and crafts, cake decorating, whatever has parent volunteers. The 4-H kids also work at the Boosters' ice cream booth to raise money. And tomorrow the Tassajara Valley club members are manning the cake booth in the Young California building. If you can't support them by purchasing an animal, buy a piece of cake and say hello.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.