ESCANABA - Last Saturday morning, 16-year-old 4-H member Alesha Gustafson wasn't sure if she'd be able to auction her 251-pound hog Paisley at the U.P. State Fair. Earlier that week, she had undergone emergency surgery for Crohn's disease at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, and the auction rulebook specified that all sales must be done in person.
But when a group of volunteers and bidders heard about Gustafson's situation, they took matters into their own hands, appealing to the U.P. State Fair Livestock Advisory Committee on her behalf. Soon, the livestock auction turned into an impromptu fundraising drive for Gustafson. Her pig was sold for more than $50 a pound - a sum made possible by a joint bid from dozens of individual buyers and organizations.
Gustafson, a member of Menominee-based 4-H club "When Pigs Fly," said that she was not aware of the plan before the auction started.
Alesha Gustafson is shown with her 251-pound hog Paisley. Because Gustafson had undergone emergency surgery for Crohn’s disease, it was unsure whether she would be able to show Paisley at the U.P. State Fair. A group of volunteers and bidders stepped in and Paisley ended up selling for more than $50 a pound.
The crowd reacts as bidding for Alesha Gustafson’s 251-pound hog Paisley progresses at the U.P. State Fair. Her hog sold for more than $50 a pound — a sum made possible by a joint bid from dozens of individual buyers and organizations.
"I really didn't expect that much, and I couldn't believe what was happening," Gustafson said.
The sale was spearheaded by Gary Johnson of Johnson Brothers Farms, self-described "mentor to 4-H kids" according to Ken Gartland, one of the bidders.
"Mr. Johnson brought it to my attention that a little girl with Crohn's disease had the last pig to be sold," Gartland said.
Johnson contacted Rep. Ed McBroom, chairman of the Livestock Advisory Committee, to see if it would be possible to make an exception for her. In turn, McBroom contacted the other members of the committee, who unanimously supported the idea.
With their approval, Johnson rallied bidders to make a joint bid on the pig with the goal of raising money to help Gustafson, Gartland said.
In the end, Gustafson was able to attend the auction in a wheelchair, though her sister did the showing.
Though not every bidder at the event was aware of the situation before bidding began, many had heard that something unusual was about to happen, McBroom said.
"There was a lot of excitement," McBroom said. "A lot of buyers had been asked to give, and had, so they stuck around. There was a real buzz."
It didn't take long before the auction gained momentum, Gartland said. Eventually, even the auctioneers began donating to the cause.
"When it hit $10 a pound, everyone was on their feet," Gartland said. "It was unreal. You had guys crying - people who donated couldn't believe it."
"It was something," Alesha's father Mike Gustafson said. "It's hard to explain it. There was hardly a dry eye in the house."
In the end, Paisley was sold for $52.50 a pound, the result of a joint bid made by 51 businesses and individual buyers, U.P. State Fair Swine Superintendent Stephanie Bruno said. A 52nd, Rapid River Dairy, has since sent the Gustafsons a check. Each bidder contributed $1 per pound, save for Johnson, who paid $2 a pound.
It's a figure which may represent a new record for Michigan's livestock industry - and a new high point for the U.P. State Fair, Gartland said.
"I think it's fantastic," Gartland said. "I think it's one of the nicest things to hit Delta County in a long time."
"The whole fair is a great opportunity for the community to support kids, especially in agriculture," McBroom said. "This is like that 10 times over, and for a really good cause."
The Gustafsons were similarly moved.
"I'd like to thank the businesses so much for their support and generosity," Gustafson said.
The list of buyers include:
Super One- Escanaba
Elmer's County Market- Escanaba
First Bank/ Dagenais Enterprises- Escanaba
State Bank- Escanaba
Garceau Insurance- Escanaba
Rainbow Packing- Escanaba
Mel's Lawn & Garden- Escanaba
Rays Feed Mill- Bark River
Stenberg Brothers- Bark River
AM Express- Escanaba
Northgate Equiptment & Sales- Escanaba
Carpet & Drapery Shop- Escanaba
Beaver Machine- Coleman, Wis.
Ken Gartland- Escanaba
Lakeview Assisted Living- Gladstone
Pomps Tire- Escanaba
Anderson Tackman/ Besse Forest Products- Escanaba
Syl's Cafe- Ontanogan
United Producers- St. Louis, Mich.
Northern Michigan Liverstock- Gaylord, Mich.
Clare Livestock- Clare, Mich.
Wayland Livestock- Wayland, Mich.
Chuck Kewley- Daggett
Wells Lions Club- Escanaba
Brock Farms- Menominee
U.P. Vet- Stephenson
Moker Livestock- Wallace
Burnt Land Farms- Pickford
Martin Curstom Harvesting- Wallace
M&A Farm and Fur- Carney
Dennis Rye Milk Transit- Wallace
Viau's Market- Escanaba
Foster Law Firm- Marquette
DeBacker Farm & Dairy- Daggett
Chenier's Greenhouse- Flatrock, MI
Triangle Restaurant- McMillan
Northern Machine- Escanaba
Johnson Farms- Wallace
Lippen's Potato Farm- Bark River
S&M Livestock- Wallace
Bloniarz Equiptment- Perronville
Love Meats- Rudyard
Granquist Dairy- Powers
Riesterer & Schnell- Pound, Wis.
Hanson's Potato & Seed Farm- Cornell
Equity Livestock- Bonduel, Wis.
Lauren Family Farms- Gwinn
Johnson Brother's Livestock- Escanaba
In Memory of Felix & Lloyd Johnson- Escanaba
Wangerin Logging- Stephenson
UP Ophthalmology- Escanaba
Maplewood Meats- Green Bay