By DOUG GRAVES
MARION, Ohio – Every summer, empty acres come alive, bursting with neon light and deep-fried delights. County fairs are a way of life for many living in the Midwest, but for the first time in more than a half century, many organizers say opening the midways this summer seems like a long shot.
Some Ohio fairs have already canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, something they haven’t done since World War II.
Marion County, Ohio, would have been celebrating its 170th fair June 29 through July 4 but that milestone will be marked next year instead.
“The decision to not hold this year’s fair in normal capacity was not taken lightly as it impacts the livelihood of many individuals and businesses in our community,” said Keith Seckel, Marion County Senior Fair Board president.
Ohioans can expect many more fairs to shut their doors as stay-at-home orders loom and show no signs of easing of restrictions.
Despite the doom and gloom outlook for fairs, 4H-ers throughout the Farm World readership area are attempting to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic – even at the closed Marion County Fair.
“The silver lining of this unprecedented situation is that we are invested in doing what we can to recognize the heart of our fair, and that’s the Junior Fair Exhibitor,” Seckel said.
And Seckel is not alone. Clark County, Ohio, 4H Director Patty House has encouraged 4Hers in her county to set some goals that might be slightly different than they have in past years.
“They might decide they want to try a new project this year based on their current family situation,” House said. “They might want to spend more time with that dog, horse or livestock project then they have in the past because they’re at home with stay-at-home orders. There are lots of skills learned through every single 4H project, but these goals this year may be slightly different.”
In Adams County, Ohio, fair officials there have cancelled all 4H programs, activities and events, including the 4H camp. However, the fair itself is in limbo so Kristy Watters, 4H Youth Development Educator in Adams County, is having the children submit required information online, and they are also completing quality assurance requirements virtually.
“Our Kids’ College, typically held at the Ohio Valley Carreer & Technical Center during the second week in April, was cancelled this year but a virtual alternative is in progress,” Watters said. “The Kids College teachers 4Hers about photography, food nutrition, small engines or vet science. We’re working regionally with other counties in our area to put together a virtual Kids’ College, where families register to log onto Zoom, then use the breakout rooms feature to teach them different sessions. A lot of counties are taking different program areas that they specialize in and sharing videos of their projects each day.”
Ohio 4H has a series of stay-at-home projects available as PDFs on the state website (https://ohio4H.org/).
4Hers throughout the Farm World readership area are resorting to holding virtual meetings using Skype, Zoom, Facebook Live and even YouTube.
Ohio 4H is now offering 18 projects that members can do from home by downloading a file. These projects can be found at ohio4h.org/stayathomeprojects. The projects include sewing, leisure arts, creative writing, genealogy, cooking and baking, natural resources and more.
In Iowa, 4H chapters are hoping fairs and expos will not be lost.
“Iowa 4H is weathering the changes to our lives as best we can,” said Wapello County 4H youth coordinator Cindy Emery. “We’re having to adjust to the social distancing guidelines, recommending a limit on gatherings of 10 or more people. Many of our club meetings thus far are being adapted to be virtual.”
Besides several county events and activities scheduled throughout most of the spring, state 4H events such as Equine Extravaganza in June has been postponed and will now take place in September.
“Many of those event are the culmination of years of work in 4H,” Emery said. “We are doing our best to reschedule and adjust our programs to ensure youth can still participate whenever possible.”
4H members in Iowa are permitted to work on various projects. Livestock, horticulture, agriculture, creative arts, clothing, baking, science, engineering and technology projects can all be worked on even while practicing social distancing.
“Short term, youth are adapting to this changing environment and are still able to work on their projects remotely,” Emery said. “Volunteers are helping through calls, virtual meetings and online teaching tools. We are hoping things will improve in time for summer activities.”
In Indiana, Pursue Extension Switzerland County’s Kyle Weaver said that Switzerland County, like other counties in Indiana, are awaiting a statewide decision by officials at Purdue University on the state’s county fairs as well.
“Normally, 4Hers would bring their animals to the fairgrounds to be tagged, but now all of them are going to tag their animals at home,” Weaver said. “Another hurdle is that 4H members need to attend a certain number of meetings in order to be eligible to have projects at the fair. Club leaders are finding new ways for their members to attend meetings, such as virtual meetings and doing lots of social media stuff. Some clubs are doing Zoom meetings, so that’s helping.”
In Illinois, all 4H camps and Illini Summer Academies (typically held in June) have been canceled. However Illinois 4H Director Lisa Diaz, said ‘We have been working very hard to prepare as if summer is happening, which is our greatest hope.”
“The goal is to establish some options should the quarantine make it impossible to continue with 4H shows in the traditional format,” Diaz said. “That could mean rescheduling shows later in the summer, or holding online shows with different formats for livestock and general show projects. 4H and Extension staff are working to develop digital exhibitions and other alternatives consistent with social distancing guidelines.”
Huge in the state of Kentucky are the four regional camping centers with their traditional 10-week summer camps. The COVID-19 pandemic has suspended these gatherings.
“The 4H camp directors are working to create an alternative schedule that will be modified based on the number of weeks available once gathering restrictions are lifted,” said Mark Mains, assistant director for 4H youth development at the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.
“We are exploring options for offering shorter sessions, weekend sessions and fall sessions with the goal or providing a 4H camping experience for as many youth and adults as possible while assuring everyone’s safety.”
Last year, about 11,000 Kentucky youth and 2,000 adults attended 4H camps around the Bluegrass State.