By Sarah Donaldson and Rachel Wagoner
SALEM, Ohio — Addy Brenner, 16, a Stark County 4-H’er, has plenty of time before the fair in September. She got her market steer last fall and has completed all of her clinics and 4-H events until the skillathon, in August.
Even if COVID-19 lockdowns extend long enough to prevent her from showing and selling at the fair, she has other ways to sell her steer, which are too expensive to keep around as pets. Her family raises and sells beef cattle.
Other fair exhibitors and 4-H’ers may not have that option. Some fair officials speculate that this will lead to a decrease in participation for this fair season, if the fairs happen at all.
As national social distancing guidelines extend through April, fair and 4-H officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to the 2020 fair season.
Pennsylvania 4-H and Ohio 4-H both suspended all in-person meetings and events until at least May 15. Clubs can meet virtually, if possible.
Kirk Bloir, Ohio’s state 4-H leader, said it’s hard to say how this situation will affect the fair season. The situation is still evolving and changing quickly.
“The best answer I have is that we just don’t know,” Bloir told Farm and Dairy in an email.
Joshua Rice, assistant director of Pennsylvania 4-H programs, said they developed education activities 4-H’ers can do while at home. The activities that will be released online include photography, embryology, a food science challenge and an engineering design challenge. The activities count towards the Pennsylvania 4-H Clover Award program.
Rice said they’re monitoring the situation for how 4-H’ers with animal projects might be affected by COVID-19, but it’s too soon to say, given how fluid the situation is.
Wait and see
Some fairs are already having conversations about this season. Harrison County Fair Board president Lynette Dauch said the board is trying to keep a positive attitude about the fair this year, but is currently in “wait and see mode.”
“Our number one goal is to give the youth an opportunity to show and sell their animals,” Dauch said.
The Harrison County Fair is one of the earlier fairs in Ohio, scheduled to begin June 22 this year.
The Ohio State Fair, scheduled for the end of July and beginning of August, posted a statement on its Facebook page. It said that it hopes to proceed as planned with the fair this summer, but the future remains uncertain. The fair’s staff is monitoring the situation as it develops.
Tim Fowler, president of the Cuyahoga County Fair Board, noted that while most cattle projects are already underway, many hog exhibitors are in the process of getting their animals, and some poultry exhibitors may not get their animals for several more weeks.
The fair was expecting an increase in its number of 4-H projects this year, but Fowler now suspects that there will be a decrease, since some 4-H’ers and their families will not want to buy market animals if there is a risk of not being able to show and sell at the fair.
“I guess I could say we would be cautiously optimistic,” Fowler said about the fair and 4-H projects. “It’s quite a financial commitment. Each person has to make that individual decision at this point.”
Fowler and other board members had their monthly meeting, March 26, over Zoom. He said the board determined the fair is not an essential operation under the Ohio administration’s stay-at-home order. The fair canceled all but one of its events through May. Fowler suspects that the one remaining event will be canceled as well.
“We’re losing that income, which is rather significant,” he said.
The fair laid off its four full-time maintenance staff and three part-time office staff, March 27. It retained its superintendent, to handle any on-site emergencies, since the fair houses horses in some of the barns.
Fowler said that usually the board has the majority of its contracts for vendors back by June. The board has talked to the company it hires for amusement rides, which is based in Florida. The company is still prepared if the fair season still happens, but Fowler said it’s all subject to when the stay-at-home order is raised.
“We would need to know pretty much by the end of May,” he said.
The Cuyahoga County Fair is scheduled for Aug. 11-16. The board is discussing alternatives for 4-H projects and other exhibits and events in case it does need to make adjustments. He added, however, that state officials have not made any declarations that the fairs will not be able to operate this year.
“I’d say all fairs in the state of Ohio are really in jeopardy one way or another,” he said.
(Reporters Sarah Donaldson and Rachel Wagoner can be reached at 800-837-3419, or firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.)
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