In 1989, Jim was the leader in founding the Centennial Farm at the OC Fairgrounds. The 3.5-acre working farm today welcomes over 100,000 visitors throughout the school year, and is a favorite exhibit during the annual OC Fair. Centennial Farm, through Jim’s leadership, has become an iconic point of meaningful connection and education for many in the community.
Jim is survived by his wife, Helen Bailey, four children, nine grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, one son-in-law, three siblings, and many more loving family and friends who are considered to be his greater family. The family of Jim Bailey asks that in lieu of flowers that donations go to two causes that are reflective of his passions, the Centennial Farm Foundation, OC Fair & Event Center or Orangethorpe Christian Church for their Hot Meal Ministry.
Jim Bailey: 54 years of farming at OC Fair
Aug. 1, 2013
Updated Aug. 21, 2013 12:28 p.m.
By ANGIE MARCOS
When Jim Bailey, then 30, first started working at the OC Fair as the livestock manager in 1959, mechanical scales were used to weigh animals. Farm staff struggled to read the numbers, he said, as the animals shifted and fumbled about and their owners often argued about the scale's accuracy.
That's no longer a problem with today's more precise computerized digital scales, said Bailey, now 84, who added that he "did all of the managing and anything that had to do with livestock" when he was first hired.
He's done a lot more since then.
Bailey is credited with founding Centennial Farm in 1989.
Today, the three-acre farm is open year round. Local residents get to observe flowers blooming and purchase fresh produce from the garden even when the fair isn't running. The farm also allows and encourages neighboring schools to bring school children to tour the site and learn about the working farm.
So, how does Bailey feel about having worked 54 OC Fairs?
"It makes me think I'm 100 years old," he said. "Old, but grateful."
Throughout Bailey's 54 years at the OC Fair, nine of his family members have been employed by the fair: his wife, four children and four granddaughters.
Although he hadn't planned on it, Bailey is working the Fair every day this year. His wife, Helen, 83, is also working at the fair this year.
"Somehow, our minds have not let us believe we're old," he said.
These days, Bailey takes more of a backseat, coming in to advise those who have taken over his many duties and responsibilities. "I either drive around or walk around the garden and they tell me of any problems they're having and we talk about them," he said. "Mainly, what they do is pick my brain. I'm more of a consultant now."
As for whether he sees himself working next year's fair, "That's a hard question. I've been asked that question three times today," he says with a laugh. "Who knows?"
The Current sat down for an interview with one of the longest-serving employees of the OC Fair to hear how his first year managing livestock at the OC Fair 54 years ago compares to today.
Although you initially started working the Fair in 1959, the Centennial Farm didn't come along until later on. How did the idea for the farm come about?
When I started (working at the Fair) I was an agriculture teacher at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton. The person in charge of livestock was on their way out and they needed to find a replacement. Well, I didn't know what I was doing but I needed the extra money. I was young (and) had three kids by that time. I had never been to a fair in my life. So I hired some help. I hired people with fair experience. We had a great time. I learned how to do it and every year I came back. Every year they said, 'You can't quit now.' So I've just kept going.
What is one thing that is different this year or that you think people must see when they visit the farm?
I think the garden area this year is especially good because it all came together really well. We try to time the garden to be spectacular at this time of year, for the Fair. And probably this year is the best that it's been. The sunflowers out there came to bloom right on schedule, right on time. The tomatoes are all producing like crazy. I like what it's doing for the community; I think we're doing a service to the community.
What do you remember from your first OC Fair?
How we weighed all the animals that had to be weighed and sorted to the divisions and classes they should be in. I remember thinking, 'How in the world are we going to do that?' because I had never done it before. Every animal had to be weighed and ear-tagged so that you could keep track of them. I think that first year was a nightmare.
Weighing them was the biggest challenge for me that year. We had those old-time weighers, not digital like we have now. It was all on a platform and you had to read it and all of the people were looking over our shoulders to make sure that we read it right. Now, (the scale) punches out the weights. No one can argue with you. I remember there was one lady who always argued with me every week. Her kid should have been five more pounds, she'd say. But when you're doing it on the computer and it punches it out, it is what it is.
In your 54 years at the OC Fair, is there one experience that stands out above all others?
When we built the barn. I think it's the best thing. We designed it ourselves. If you look at all the advertisements that we use, it has become a signature thing. People have weddings there and rent it out for all kinds of things. The most important thing is it's a real barn and we use it as a barn. I like barns. I've always been interested in barns. So I think that's one area that really stands out. I feel really good about having been part of getting it built.
What would you say is your favorite thing about the fair?
I think my favorite thing is the farm and livestock, but I think anything that has to do with the exhibits is really great. I really push the exhibits where somebody brings something to the fair for somebody else to see and get judged. I think that's an important part of what fairs are all about. You know, the food part is important and the rides are important and the commercial buildings are important, but if you didn't have the exhibits, you wouldn't have the fair.