Francesca Pharo has been showing animals at the Sonoma County Fair since she was nine years old and it’s never lost its allure. Soon she’ll be heading off to college, but not before spending the beginning of August competing at the fair one last time.
“The fair is my favorite time of year,” said Pharo, now 18. “It’s social and also a place to pick up new skills.” This year she’ll be showing two market steers and two white Dorper sheep, and will ride her horse, Jake, in a showmanship competition. She has a history of success, including raising the 4H Grand Champion steer in 2016.
Heritage turkeys were Pharo’s entrée to the fair scene and she quickly moved on to livestock. She remembers one year wearing an all orange outfit in the show ring, including orange chaps and boots, and orange is still her favorite color. This time, though, she’ll be seen in slim jeans and a black blouse as she’s become more sophisticated through the years.
A recent Sonoma Valley High School graduate, she thrived in the school’s Agriculture Science Academy. “It was incredible. It so prepares you for a career in the ag business,” she said. Pharo also worked at Valley of the Moon Veterinary Hospital as a kennel assistant twice a week after school during her junior and senior years, where she even had the opportunity to observe surgeries.
She will be majoring in animal science at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, then hopes to go on to graduate school. “I want to become a large-animal vet and then come back to Sonoma County and have my own practice.” And she always wants to live on a property she shares with animals.
She’s looking forward to the move to Fort Collins for school, although she knows it will be a big change to be so far from home. “It’s not like I will be able to come home on the weekends,” she said, calling the big move ahead “a little daunting but exciting.” It will help that her roommate will be Dena Tunzi, an FFA friend from Petaluma.
Pharo got a taste of being on her own this summer when she and a buddy spent three weeks in Europe, a week each in Italy, Switzerland and Spain. She also was a teen counselor at 4H camp in Las Posadas State Forest for a week, along with her best friend Kayla Minehan.
“Animals are pretty much my whole life,” she said, explaining she has always been involved in 4H and FFA, and that almost all her friends are involved in those organizations, too. And many of them will also be attending the Sonoma County Fair. When she was at Prestwood Elementary and Adele Middle School she studied Irish dancing and played basketball, “But after that is was all 4H and FFA,” she said.
An only child, she lives with her parents, Richard and Eileen Pharo, on two-and-a-half animal-friendly acres in Schellville. They have two horses, two steers, eight sheep, three cats, two dogs, too many chickens to count and a beehive. Pharo rides her horse Jake, which she received as a Christmas present in 2014, through the vineyards surrounding her home almost every day. “It gives him a chance to gallop,” she said.