The 4-H clover stands for “Head, Heart, Hands and Health,” but this year brings five new letters — COVID.
The pandemic has forced dramatic changes for county fairs and Achievement Days, where 4-Hers compete with livestock and other projects.
This year, those events in the Yankton region will take on a much different look — if they’re held at all. Nearly all area South Dakota counties have canceled their events, while Knox and Cedar counties are moving forward so far with their 4-H and open class events in northeast Nebraska.
In Yankton County, the Pine Acres fairgrounds will remain quiet during the usual Achievement Days date of late July and early August. However, 4-Hers will still participate in virtual events, according to office manager Danielle McFarland.
“This is still a chance for the 4-Hers to show off their livestock and other exhibits,” she said. “They’re still recognized and rewarded for their hard work all year.”
The Yankton County 4-H Leaders Association chose a virtual event because it didn’t believe it could comply with COVID-19 protocols, McFarland said.
“This year, because of all the requirements for us to hold an in-person Achievement Days, it would be so labor intensive with our small group of people (as volunteers),” she said. “We couldn’t figure out how to make it work, looking at things like all the masks and all the cleaning involved each time anyone goes in and out of an area.”
The public’s ability to view the events would be all but shut down under current restrictions, McFarland said.
“Because of state requirements, we would have to limit attendance at each event to (fewer) than 50 people,” she said. “That includes the competitors, judges and families that want to watch or stand around the ring. Keeping it at fewer than 50 people would make it very hard to make things work in that setting.”
With virtual events, exhibitors will provide a video of their entries, McFarland said.
“For example, the livestock kids need to include themselves and their animal doing some kind of showmanship, at least for the larger livestock,” she said. “We’re working out what we want to do with the poultry and rabbits, which is a little bit different.”
With many counties not holding a fair or Achievement Days, the State Fair board won’t require competing at a county event before reaching the state level, McFarland said.
“That made it much easier for us (at the county level),” she said. “Now, we’ll have a non-qualifying event (in Yankton County) and hand out participation medals. It won’t matter how you do because you can still take entries to state.”
Yankton County leaders are waiting for further guidelines on conducting the virtual event and how many exhibits can be taken to the state fair, McFarland said.
“The only in-person event we held this year was special foods, because it’s on a smaller scale which is easier to work with. Also, it’s hard to do it virtual because it could take 1 to 1½ hours to prepare an entry,” she said.
“We’re having it here at the Extension office, but it’s a non-public event so the kids can work by themselves. We’ll have all participants along with the judges.”
In other parts of southeast South Dakota, Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Douglas, Hutchinson and Clay counties have all canceled their county events. Union County was still planning its event at Alcester but was monitoring conditions and was prepared to cancel events, if needed.
In making its decision, Bon Homme County officials cited many of the same concerns as Yankton County in terms of health and safety concerns and the restricted attendance at the Tyndall fairgrounds.
In Clay County, the 4-H Leaders Association discussed the feasibility of carrying out typical summer 4-H programs — Youth In Action events, livestock shows and static exhibits — at the Vermillion fairgrounds or other sites. All events will be closed to the public.
The Clay County 4-H Leaders Association will work with the Clay County emergency management team and the state 4-H office to determine the status of each event.
While canceling Achievement Days, Douglas County will still hold its Youth In Action events — such as fashion review, public presentation and special foods — in person. The public presentation is set for 6 p.m. July 14, special foods 10 a.m. July 16 and fashion review 2:30 p.m. July 28.
For Hutchinson and Turner counties, 4-H/youth development director Deanna Gall said she is working with decisions for both events. Hutchinson County canceled its Achievement Days in Tripp, while Turner County will hold its 4-H events separate from the fair, which draws thousands of visitors to the Parker fairgrounds.
“We are planning 4-H only events in both counties for their livestock shows and judging of projects. However, in both counties it is not open to the public,” she said. “We cannot have over 50 people at events in August. If we do, we have to write specific waivers to justify having over 50 there. It is limited to the exhibitor and their immediate family only — grandparents are not included, only parents/guardians and siblings — plus essential staff to run the event regardless of numbers.”
Turner County 4-H leaders are looking at ways of displaying exhibits for public viewing, Gall said.
“We’re looking at judging display exhibits the week before the fair, then displaying at the fair,” she said. “For livestock shows, we are hoping to have approval for a combination of some shows the weekend before the fair and some in the mornings before others are on the grounds.”
In Nebraska, Knox and Cedar counties are moving forward with their competitions, according to 4-H/youth development educator Megan Hanefeldt.
“We’re currently gearing up for the Cedar County Fair to be held July 15-19 (in Hartington) with 4-H and FFA shows only,” she said. “As far as the Knox County Fair (in Bloomfield), no decisions have been made. We’re currently working with the Ag Society on what the Knox County Fair will look like.”
For McFarland, the upcoming 4-H events are unlike any she has experienced during her nearly 20 years with the Yankton County office.
“We’ve had Achievement Days called early because of the weather, and we’ve released livestock entries early because of the heat and humidity. We’ve even had the bird flu affect our poultry entries,” she said. “But I’ve never seen anything like this.”
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