How county 4-H fairs will change due to COVID-19

Local News

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) — County 4-H fairs across the state will look a lot different this year. With the spread of COVID-19, fair officials are taking extra precautions and making plans to keep fair-goers safe.

“Every community may look a little bit different,” Assistant Director of Extension, 4-H Youth Development Program Leader for Purdue University Casey Mull said. “I think you will certainly see more hand sanitizers, soap, and water dispensers and other ways to keep people safe.”

4-H is an organization that offers programs to help school-age kids gain skills and learn more about a wide variety of topics like STEM, agriculture, environmental protection, and more. Every year kids and teens participate in projects that they then showcase at their county 4-H fair. All 92 counties in Indiana have a 4-H program and fair.

When COVID-19 first shut down the state back in March, Purdue Extension officials starting making plans for the summer fairs. Officials restricted face-to-face events to help stop the spread of the virus. Purdue Extension held meetings on May 15th with counties to provide information, give updates on COVID-19, and provide guidelines on how to deal with the virus. Officials announced that 4-H fairs could occur after restricting face-to-face events. Those restrictions end on June 30.

County 4-H fairs may begin on July 4th if local officials confirm the county has reached Stage 5 in Indiana’s Back on Track plan. Fairs must also adhere to social distancing guidelines, screen employees and volunteers working daily, offer hand sanitizer and cleaning stations to employees and guest as well as disinfect high traffic area.

With the information, local 4-H fair boards, 4-H councils, and county extension educators are now deciding if and when their fair will be held. Counties were also given the option to hold virtual 4-H fairs.

“We have come up with a plan that will allow youth to be able to demonstrate what they have learned over the course of the year in a virtual way,” Mull said. “We created a way model that is accessible to all youth regardless of how or what their internet access may look like and what broadband access may look like.”

Steuben County is the first county in Northeast Indiana to announce its fair will be virtual. 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator of Steuben County Tami Mosier said that though the board wanted to have the fair in person, the safest option was to have the fair virtual.

“Realize a virtual exhibit is not going to be a complete replacement of a person of an in-person experience,” 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator Steuben County Tami Mosier said. “We recognize that but we feel like this is a good alternative in this environment that we are living in currently.”

For counties who choose to go virtual Purdue Extension officials in that county plan to work with fair participants. Some counties may choose to live stream events on social media or their website while others may have kids record their projects on a phone or camera and send the video to officials. For kids who don’t have access to reliable internet, officials will work with kids to make sure their projects get recognized.

Mosier believes the county will do both live streams and pictures of projects that will later be added on the county’s social media pages. The day for the fair has yet to be announced but Mosier says the community has been understanding of officials choosing to have the fair virtual.

“When I announced that we were going to have a virtual fair I fully expected the next day to receive a lot of negativity,” Mosier said. “I was shocked to not receive a negative phone call or email. I was just amazed by our family’s gracious and kind response.”

Several counties in Northeast Indiana have not yet made the discussion on if and what type of fair they are having. Below is a list of when local 4-H fairs were scheduled to take place before COVID-19.

Flexibility is key going forward. With county fairs, 6 to 8 weeks off Mull’s says people should remember that county plans could and will change depending on the Governor’s reopening plan.

“This is an opportunity for us to show the grit and determination of the people in Indiana,” Mull said. “Our 4-H’ers have continued to work all year and we are excited to celebrate in whatever way and in the safest way along with those local health officials and other stakeholders as they make those determinations at the local level.”

*List and dates are subject to change. For questions check with your county Purdue Extension office. This story will be updated as new information arises.

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