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Family Lends Show Animals To Underprivileged Students At Alachua County Fair

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Alachua County fair cowsTom Massagee reclined on a bale of hay as fair goers wandered in and out of his exhibit.

Some pushed dollar bills into his hand in exchange for a cup of animal feed, and others asked questions about the 50 animals on display at the Alachua County Fair on Thursday.

Massagee didn’t mind. After all, he has more than one hundred farm animals — including cows, goats, sheep, pigs, Polish chickens, geese and rabbits on his Archer farm — proof that he enjoys his generations-old hobby.

“The Alachua County Fair allows us to come in and show them, and a lot of children of Alachua County get to see animals, not just zoo animals, but real farm animals,” he said.

In its third year at the Alachua County Youth Fair, the Massagee family not only hopes to educate others about agriculture, but also to attract those who might be interested in their program.

Massagee’s charity doesn’t stop at the annual fair, where he and his family get no kickback for participating. The fair is also a way for Massagee, 49, and his wife, Kim, 48, to advertise a family tradition of lending show animals to students who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

All three of the couple’s children, now 25, 24 and 21, grew up showing animals in local competitions, part of Florida’s Future Farmers of America. As their children got older, so did their cattle. Now, the family lets students who are unable to pay for their own animal use theirs.

“It’s a family thing,” he said.

In 15 years of service, Massagee estimates the family has sponsored up to 500 students.

This year, the Massagees are looking to expand their charity to handicap students who are interested in showing off their animals. The family has sponsored disabled students in competition before, but transportation to the events always pose an issue in rural Alachua County.

Owning beef or dairy cattle for show doesn’t come easy. Kim Massagee said each student must learn all about the animal, and then also give a helping hand in the maintenance. Students also must raise money for the animals hay and feed.

“It’s a full day’s job in here, cleaning the pens and feeding and watering,” Massagee said.

Massagee is head of the Archer Trailblazers, a 4-H Club part of the country’s largest youth development organization. In 20 years, the Trailblazers have grown to 60 active members. About 12 of those turn to the Massagees for assistance.

Jodi Mikell, a 16-year-old junior at Santa Fe High School, switched to the Trailblazers last year because the group was more community-oriented.

Being raised by parents who grew up showing cows, Mikell said it was “just natural” to join a 4-H Club in high school.

Mikell herself has benefited from the Massegee’s charity. She’s shown their beef and dairy cattle in competition and in return, she’s helped with the maintenance of the family’s pigs and cows.

“They have always been a part of the community,” she said.

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