Juliana Figone with the Heritage Hog

Gilroy Disptach

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017 11:06 am


Early in the morning as the rest of the city sleeps, out in the rural edges of town past the Sonic Drive-In and the last Subway before Pacheco Pass, Gilroy teen, Julianna Figone, is already awake and doing her morning chores at her step-dad’s ranch where she is raising a market hog for the upcoming Santa Clara County Fair.

Called Agatha, the 200-pound Yorkshire Cross is the county fair’s Heritage Hog, a special pig whose sale proceeds at the fair’s junior auction go towards supporting youth agriculture programs in the county.

Figone, 18, was selected earlier this year by the Clover Foundation of Santa Clara County to raise and sell the Heritage Hog at the county fair, a prestigious honor that also came with a $4,000 scholarship for the recent Gilroy High School graduate and member of the school’s FFA club.

“I had to do a two-minute speech on youth in agriculture in the county as part of the application process,” explained Figone, who plans on converting a lifetime raising and training livestock into a degree in ag economics at the University of Idaho. “I competed with other FFA and 4-H members in the county.”

Figone has been a member of 4-H for 13 years and raising market hogs since she was 9 years old. She competes in five county fairs a year and for the second year in a row will show at the California State Fair in July.

The experience has taught her responsibility, leadership skills and a desire to help the planet. After college she aims to get a law degree with a focus on water resources.

“I think it’s important with the drought we’ve had and all the problems we have with water in the state,” she said.

Until Figone starts on this latest chapter of her life, she is out with Agatha everyday to get her show-ready. Part of the training involves working with a whip that Figone uses to guide Agatha around the ring. During the swine show part of the fair, when Agatha and Figone both get to shine, the teen will attempt to keep the hog on full display in front of a panel of judges, a technique that is called a “ham sandwich.”

Due to the summer heat and because pigs don’t sweat, Figone does most of the training in the early morning. But, even to someone so experienced in the way of the hog, it can be a bit challenging.

“It’s all up to the pig if she wants to work,” said Figone, as Agatha dips her snout into the cool mud. The hog was washed the night before, but as Figone said, “she’s a pig and likes to be dirty.”

Agatha and other livestock will be up for auction at the Santa Clara County Fair in August.

Proceeds from the sale of the Heritage Hog at the junior auction will go to support programs like the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and 4-H. To get top dollar for the hog and its noble aims, Figone has sent numerous letters to businesses and organizations in the county, including major technology firms Apple and Google.

In neighboring Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties, where the agriculture industry is more robust and the tradition of buying livestock at auction remains strong, the Heritage Hog can fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction. Anything over market value can be a tax deduction and businesses often pool their resources to donate a nice sum to support the sale’s charitable aims. After the sale at auction the animal goes straight to the butchers. Some businesses offer the meat as corporate gifts or give to their employees.

Figone and other young FFA and 4-H members are carrying the torch for an industry that is slowly being forgotten in Santa Clara County. To show your support, go to the Santa Clara County Fair, August 3-6. The junior auction is on August 5 at 10 a.m. Place your bid for Agatha, and remember you saw her first in the Gilroy Dispatch!