Showcasing agriculture

The Southeastern Youth Fair, which runs Feb. 22-March 2, is the premier event for 4-H and FFA students in Marion County.

The Southeastern Youth Fair is time-honored tradition in Marion County. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette/file photo]

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Posted February 19, 2024 | By Susan Smiley-Height,

What has 2,966 entries and 886 exhibitors and is dedicated to Hugh Dailey, one of the area’s longtime business leaders, a former president of the Marion County Cattlemen’s Association and one of the organizers of the annual Ocala Bull Sale?

That would be the 84th annual Southeastern Youth Fair, which will run from Feb. 22 to March 2 at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion in Ocala. The events, which are geared toward showcasing the skills and talents of local 4-H and FFA students, are free and open to the public. This year’s event theme is “There’s No Time Like Fair Time.”

“We’ll begin Feb. 22 with lamb and goat check in and close out the fair on March 2 with our swine sale,” said Sara LeFils, executive director of the fair.

The SEYF is the oldest all-youth fair in the country that continues to operate without a midway and the largest all-youth fair event in the state of Florida. All of the exhibitors must be registered with a local 4-H club or the National FFA Organization.

The categories include market steer, swine, lamb and goat; showing opportunities for chickens, dogs, horses and rabbits; tractor driving; a barbecue competition; club exhibits; and activities for the home arts, photography and horticulture.

The Steer Show, which was the foundation of the SEYF, began in 1941. The fair in its current configuration started in 1978. That year saw the start of the beef heifer, dog obedience, dairy and meat goat, garden, home arts, horse, kitchen, poultry, rabbit and swine show categories. Dog agility was added in 2004. The SEYF operates with one paid employee and more than 200 volunteers, whose time is valued at over $50,000 and who provide almost 4,000 hours of service each year.

The guiding principles are to maintain a production show; foster a unique experience for a child to act as a producer, to market their animal from beginning to end; protect that project as much as possible for the buyer’s sake with a high-quality product, for the child’s sake in protecting their initial investment and with a goal for the highest possible return for the child; and create educational experiences for Marion County youth. The mission is to recognize youth through the fair as a showcase for competition, exhibition, enhanced educational opportunities and the promotion of self-esteem and personal growth and development, while educating residents about the importance of agriculture and related industries in the local area.

New activities this year will include bringing back the once-popular barn dance and introducing a Sunday worship service.

“We’re also going to be celebrating our seniors this year before each show, similar to senior night for athletes, and I think that’ll be tremendously special,” LeFils noted.

One of the key elements of the fair is that participants can earn money, which they most often use to further their education.

Hugh Dailey is shown during one of the annual Ocala Bull Sales. This year’s Southeastern Youth Fair is dedicated to Dailey. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette/file photo]

LeFils said that the new Southeastern Youth in Agriculture Foundation, which is a separate 501(c)(3) from the nonprofit SEYF, will help “provide more scholarships for our SEYF graduates.”

“This year alone we are giving away over $21,000 in scholarships. It’s an incredible step in the direction of supporting our youth beyond their primary and secondary years. In a generation where so many kids dedicate their lives to a sport with hopes of gaining post-secondary scholarships, we want our youth to see that the Southeastern Youth Fair—and growing up learning about agriculture and raising livestock—can reap the same kinds of scholarships,” she explained.

“The fair is dedicated this year to Mr. Hugh Dailey, a long-time supporter, executive board member and former exhibitor at the Southeastern Youth Fair. Coincidentally, he is the spearhead and leader in establishing our Southeastern Youth in Agriculture Foundation as well. He has been a pillar in our community for decades and we are so proud and humbled to call him part of our SEYF family. We are beyond thrilled to dedicate the 84th annual Southeastern Youth Fair to Mr. Dailey,” LeFils added.

“It is a great honor to join several previous honorees and youth fair supporters by being honored this year and I am humbled by the recognition of the fair to honor my involvement and continued support. I have been involved in the Southeastern Youth Fair since the beginning. I actually exhibited in the Southeastern Steer Show before the Youth Fair was formed in the mid ‘70s. I was a director in the Southeastern Livestock Association for several years as the fair was formed,” Dailey shared in an email message.

“As a former participant, 4-H leader and active member of several fair committees, I have seen the positive impact the SEYF has on our community. I plan to stay involved for as long as I can to help our fair stay relevant,” he added.

Dailey also noted the importance of the formation of the foundation to fund scholarships for youth participants.

“This year we will grant over $20,000 in scholarships to seniors who are participants in the SEYF. My goal is to help the Southeastern Agricultural Youth Foundation raise over $1 million to help support scholarships for youth fair participants for many years in the future,” he explained. “This will help kids stay interested in agriculture and learn the importance of raising high quality food for their future. We don’t expect them all to have a career directly involved in agriculture, but we think it is very important to understand how to be good stewards of our land.”

To learn more and find the complete schedule of events, visit

The Southeastern Youth Fair includes numerous opportunities for local students, including learning to drive a tractor and demonstrate their skills for judges. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette/file photo]

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