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County Fair Experiences Continue, Sometimes Without a Fair
Iowa Ag Connection - 07/15/2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, county fair boards across the state are partnering with county extension councils and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach staff to create safe, quality 4-H county fair experiences for youth. In some counties, that means postponing the entire fair or canceling many activities, focusing only on youth shows and moving activities to a virtual platform. Others are moving forward with some type of in-person experience for youth, though it may be limited.

Linn County 4-H fair experiences are virtual this year."When local fair boards decide to limit activities at county fairs or postpone fairs entirely, they don't make these decisions lightly. They are concerned about protecting the health and safety of everyone," said John Lawrence, Iowa State University vice president for extension and outreach.

"ISU Extension and Outreach supports the tough decisions that Iowa's county fair boards have had to make. Together our staff, extension council members and county fair partners are implementing a variety of 4-H county fair experiences that are appropriate for local conditions. They are following guidance from our Governor, the Iowa Department of Public Health and local public health officials," Lawrence said.

This team approach also incorporates best practices from 4-H, according to Debbie Nistler, 4-H state program leader for ISU Extension and Outreach.

"The fair experience for our 4-H youth provides opportunities to demonstrate skills they have developed, and knowledge gained all year. Youth spend hundreds of hours working with their projects, learning and growing within their project, caring for their animals, and engaging with their clubs. The fair provides a chance to receive feedback and use that feedback to grow their project in the future," Nistler said.

During this summer of COVID-19, local health and safety decisions for any type of event may vary, depending upon the location in the state, and the number of confirmed cases and trajectory of the disease. Local decisions about 4-H county fair experiences vary as well.

For example, 4-H fair experiences in Palo Alto County this year include in-person judging with the youth present for static exhibits and events, and a "show and go" format for livestock shows, minimizing the number of people on the grounds at one time.

Many county fairs, such as Warren County and Marion County, will offer a non-conference judging exhibit experience. 4-H members will bring their exhibits to a central location, and then judges will come on a different day to evaluate. This is paired with a "show and go" format or traditional livestock show experience.

Linn County 4-H fair experiences went completely virtual this year for livestock shows, communication and clothing events, and project exhibits. Judging results were sent to youth participants through the mail and livestock shows were recorded and published on YouTube.

"For county fairs, the philosophy to evaluate, educate and encourage still rings true. Even if the experience is changed for our 4-H members in 2020, we are still evaluating exhibits, and educating and encouraging our 4-H members," Nistler said.

The 2020 Iowa State Fair has been postponed, but state-level learning opportunities for 4-H youth continue.

A special exhibition, 4-H Show Iowa, will provide state-level virtual recognition for 4-H Exhibits, Communication Events and the Awardrobe Clothing Selection. Youth will submit photos of entries and summary information, and counties will select exhibits for 4-H Show Iowa in a similar manner to how they normally select exhibits and participants for the Iowa State Fair. The virtual public exhibition will be released during the originally planned Iowa State Fair dates, Aug. 13-23.

The Iowa State Fairgrounds will host a Fair Special Edition: Iowa 4-H and FFA Livestock Show in August. The revised schedule for 4-H livestock shows will be spread out over three weeks and held Thursday through Saturday -- Aug. 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22.

"We understand 4-H youth are disappointed that the Iowa State Fair and many county fairs, in a traditional sense, aren't happening this year. We are disappointed, too," Nistler said. "But we are very proud of our 4-H youth, extension staff, extension councils and local fair boards for working together to continue to create valuable experiences for Iowa's young people."

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