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Community Commentary: Fairgrounds play a big role in kids' lives

June 29, 2011|By David Ellis and Steven Beazley

Now that the 4th District Court of Appeal has decided to stop the sale of the Orange County Fair & Event Center, let's hope the adults will quit fighting over the future of the fairgrounds so we can get back to what we do best: provide great educational programs for the kids.

Amid all the noise, I've thought a lot about the hundreds of thousands of Orange County kids who have visited the fairgrounds over the years. I've thought about the brand new worlds in agriculture, livestock, science and art they've experienced. And I've imagined how their experiences might have shaped their academic interests and career choices.

I've also wondered about today's kids who might have fewer chances — or perhaps none at all — to experience the fairgrounds and its programs if the property were to be sold. The truth is that the fairgrounds is much more than a 150-acre piece of land property; it's a year-round classroom, laboratory, working farm and arts center.

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There's Centennial Farm — a 3-acre working farm that's home to the Millennium Barn, extensive fruit and vegetable gardens, and a variety of livestock including pigs, chickens, goats and cattle. Supported by an annual allocation of nearly $1 million by the fairgrounds' board of directors, Centennial Farm is the educational heart of the fairgrounds, providing much needed agriculture education to the public, with an emphasis on children.

Since 2002, Centennial Farm has hosted the Ranch After-School Program. This educational partnership that includes the fairgrounds, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and the city of Costa Mesa provides fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students from College Park, Davis, Paularino and Sonora schools hands-on experience in growing vegetables and fruit, caring for livestock and fashioning handmade crafts from leather. More than 600 youngsters have participated in the program, sharing their experiences and what they've learned through essays and posters at the program's annual awards celebration.

Centennial Farm also provides year-round docent and self-guided tours and is the home of our widely popular Youth Expo, Pet Expo and "Agademics" program. Over the last 10 years, nearly a quarter of a million adults and children have participated in these and other events and programs at Centennial Farm.

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