ITHACA, N.Y. — For a week every July, the Tompkins County 4-H program hosts an entirely youth-run fair that gives local 4-H members a chance to display or demonstrate projects they’ve worked on throughout the year, receive feedback and evaluation, and potentially be chosen to move on and compete at the next level, the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse.
The arrival of Covid-19 in March made it clear that state and local fairs were likely to be cancelled, but the teen 4-H members who make up the Fair Board were determined to come up with a plan for a fair that could combine virtual, at-home and in-person events (at a safe distance) to create the atmosphere of camaraderie and support that would make the best of a bad situation. With support from 4-H Educator Brenda Carpenter, and many conversations with teens, parents, volunteers, staff and other county 4-H programs, they planned a week of fair activities that was as close to normal as possible given the unusual circumstances.
The 2020 Tompkins County 4-H Youth Fair was not open to the public, only 4-H members and their families could be present at the 4-H Acres Nature facility where the fair traditionally is held. To help manage and reduce the density of people on the grounds, each 4-H’er was assigned a time for their interview and was asked to leave a soon as they completed the evaluation. Each person completed a health screening and temperature check upon arrival.
In-person project evaluations were moved to the open barn where social distancing could be ensured. Tables were spaced at least 6 feet apart, and the evaluator and 4-H member sat on opposite ends of a 6′ table for the interview. Everyone was required to wear a mask at all times and volunteers and Fair Board teens were on hand to sanitize the tables and chairs after each interview.
Exhibitors could request a virtual evaluation if they were unable to attend in-person, and one member chose this option. Twenty-nine 4-H’ers brought out 175 projects for evaluation, down from 223 exhibits in 2019. Since the projects would not be placed on display at 4-H Acres as usual, each member had their picture taken with their exhibit and a Fair Board teen created a gallery of all these photos to share, providing a lasting visual record of the projects and work that were shown. Exhibits that would have been selected to move on to the New York State Fair this year have the option of going in 2021. A total of 18 4-H’ers and 49 projects were recognized with this distinction.
Animal shows and evaluations were handled somewhat differently. In-person animal shows were limited to one per each day of the fair, with only 4-H members and family being present to ensure social distancing for attendees. Forty-nine youth brought out 106 animals for evaluation; the alpaca, sheep and rabbit shows each saw an increase in the number of exhibitors and animals presented over 2019. However, due to a state quarantine that restricted farm visits during the spring, youth who lease animals (particularly those who work with dairy and goats) were unable to visit farms to select their animals until early June, the time by which they normally would have chosen and worked with their project animal for several months. This late start had a definite negative impact on the numbers of youth who participated, and at least 8 families could not make the necessary number of visits to the farm for their youths to handle and bond with the animals sufficiently to safely bring them to the Fair.
Contests and other social activities play an important role in the annual Tompkins County 4-H Youth Fair, and these also were included in a virtual or at-home format. Challenge contests were held on the Kahoot platform this year with 29 youth participating in the dairy, livestock, plant and consumer and family science challenge contests. Other virtual events included the Opening Ceremony, Cloverbud Stuffed Animal Show, 4-H Game Night and a Talent Show. Traditional favorite social activities that many families held at-home this year included the Walking Taco Dinner, Bonfire with S’mores, and Cardboard Car Drive-in Movie and many 4-H families posted pictures of their participation in these events.
According to Carpenter, “Several parents who attended the Evaluation Meeting said that they really didn’t think there was any way we could pull this off and they really appreciated the amount of effort and planning that went into making this such a successful event.” To learn more about 4-H programs in Tompkins County, please visit http://ccetompkins.org/4-h-youth.
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–CCE Tompkins County
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