After intense discussion and diligent planning, Purdue Extension announced May 15 that 4-H fairs can be held this year. The fairs can take place after the Purdue University restrictions on face-to-face events end June 30, as long as they fall in line with the state’s Back on Track plan.
For the Howard County 4-H Fair, this means holding as normal a fair as possible, Howard County Extension Director Joshua Winrotte said.
“In Indiana, there are 92 counties, and of those 92, many have decided to have a fully virtual fair,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have the Greentown Lyons as such gracious hosts. They have been accommodating to everything we need to make sure our fair can go on.”
Anna Kelly, 13, has been in 4-H for five years. She said she plans to be a 10-year 4-Her. While Kelly has done building projects in the past, she said she is only showing livestock this year – three pigs and one heifer.
“Since we’ve been out of school, I’ve been able to spend a lot more time in the barn,” she said. “It’s really fun. I like getting to spend time with the animals and getting to work with them more.”
Some aspects will be similar to prior years. The building projects, for instance, will still be judged and displayed through the duration of the fair. Typically, livestock is brought to the fairgrounds on Sunday night and held through Thursday or Friday. That’s not the case this year.
“Purdue has asked us to have all livestock be show and go,” he said. “No livestock animal will be on the fairgrounds overnight. Any animal that arrives in the morning will have to leave in the evening.”
Kelly said this was a relief.
“I’m just glad we get to show,” she said. “It was nerve-wracking for a while because I wasn’t sure we were going to get to show. Showing [the animals] is fun and exciting. And, I like getting to meet new animals.”
Preliminary plans for the fair were announced Wednesday. But Winrotte said in a Facebook video that all plans are subject to change. Some details are still being hammered out. A full plan with schedules and procedures will be released on June 15.
“Allowing our youth to be able to come out and show off their hard work is important to all of us, and we’re going to work hard to make sure that happens,” Winrotte said.
He said they’re planning on having live animal shows with a judge. Barns will be open for participants and families. Penning, spacing and scheduling is still being fleshed out.
“Hopefully, we can have open judging so the youth can get their recognition and feedback. We’re not sure what that’s going to look like yet,” Winrotte said.
One change that will impact the building projects will be a single entrance and single exit. Everyone who enters will be asked to provide their name, phone number and ZIP Code to keep track of who has visited the fair.
4-Hers are encouraged to pre-register online with how many family members and guests they expect to join them. They’ll be given wristbands to allow them easy entry and exit through the buildings.
“We want to provide an environment that will allow every parent and 4-Her the freedom to do everything you need,” he said. “But also an environment that will allow us to verify who is entering and exiting on that specific day.”
One hard and fast rule requires all 4-Hers, volunteers and employees wear a mask. The general public is not required to wear a mask, but are asked to practice social distancing.
“There is an expectation that all employees, all volunteers and all 4-Hers must be wearing a face covering during any event that they are participating in ...” he said. “It is a non-negotiable.”
If 4-Hers are unable or uncomfortable with wearing masks or risking their safety, they can still be considered by entering their projects online. This “virtual fair” allows competitors to enter photos and/or video to showcase their project and still receive feedback. Additionally, in the case that Howard County doesn’t reach Stage 5 of the Back on Track plan by July 5, Winrotte said the fair can go ahead virtually.
For guests who will not be able to join the fair in person, many shows will be streamed online. That information will be included in the June 15 plan.
“Social distancing is not going to miraculously end by July 5. We need to be resilient and understand that at least through the end of the summer, we are in a different environment than ever before,” he said. “Is it going to be difficult to wear a mask in a building on a 90-degree day? Absolutely. But we have to work through this.”