County fair, 4-H boards deciding whether to move forward with in-person events

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Purdue Extension announced county fairs could begin on July 4, if each county worked with their local health department and reached Stage 5 in regard to the Governor’s Back on Track plan. Purdue also laid out dozens of guidelines for county agencies to follow, which leads them to make tough decisions.

“For us, it’s how do we make the best of the situation, give the kids a chance to display their work,” Bartholomew County Extension Director Elisabeth Smith explained.

Bartholomew County 4-H council decided not to hold an in-person fair this year, but to move the events online. Smith said they have many more details to finalize now, including how to showcase 4-Hers’ projects and judge them.

“That part is definitely still being ironed out,” Smith said. “Whether we do videos and put those on Facebook or our website.”

Susan Peterson is working through those same decisions with her Hamilton County extension agency team too.

“It is a big deal” Peterson expressed. “4-Hers have already started their projects, they may have their livestock, they’re working with their livestock, then trying to figure out putting those shows on, bringing judges in, looking at capacities and all of the health and safety issues for people attending, it is a big deal and it’s a lot of work and preparation.”

One decision made by Purdue Extension is prohibiting animals from staying overnight at the fairgrounds. Instead, they are mandating counties to hold in-person “show and go” events.

They are requiring organizers and 4-Hers to social distance in the show arena and wipe down all equipment. Abigail Arvin shows hogs and cattle in White County. She hopes her county decides to host in-person shows.

“There’s lots of work and tears and sweat and year long’s work that goes into it,” Arvin said. “So for that to be taken away from us, it would be really devastating.”

Under Purdue Extension’s guidelines for livestock and non-livestock shows are requirements for face coverings for every employee, volunteer and 4-H member, social distancing for the pens and stalls and keeping track of everyone present through sign-in sheets.

Some 4-H members and their families feel the guidelines are too strict and ask too much of the county fair leadership.Some county agencies do not feel they can meet these guidelines before their fairs begin.

Jason Henderson, Director of Purdue Extension, said they have directed counties to put together a financial plan with COVID19 in mind.

“Then put that in their budget and think if that’s going to be affordable,” Henderson explained. “Does it put them in financial constraints or be challenged to put on a fair? But thinking about that is something that’s going to be part of their process, but budgeting is part of their annual process to figure out if they can be successful in having a fair.”

Every person involved with Purdue Extension we spoke with insists every decision is made with the health and safety of the 4-Hers, their families and fair visitors in mind.

“We’re hoping we can figure out what is the best for all,” Peterson said. “There will be changes. We know there’s going to be changes. We know there’s going to be challenges, but we’re hoping that we can make it a positive event.” 

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