TOLCHESTER — Though its operation will be a bit different this year, a virtual Kent County 4-H Fair will go on — COVID-19 or not.
Due to the outbreak of the novel strand of the coronavirus, the annual 4-H fair, in its typical in-person format, was canceled earlier in the year.
Since that time, Beth Hill, the 4-H educator for Kent County, has been working along with the Kent County 4-H board to pivot the fair to an online format where 4-H’ers can still celebrate their accomplishments while also being safe.
Opening today, July 16, and running through Saturday, July 18, the annual livestock auction will be hosted at kentcountylivestockauction.com. Through that website, the community can participate and bid on livestock much as they would during a typical fair.
Bidders can search the site, which features photographs of the livestock and bios written by the 4-H’ers explaining more about themselves and the animals they have raised.
Hill said in a telephone interview Monday the opening bids were set by the bid committee after looking at average sales from the past few years’ auctions.
Retaining the structure of the fair’s typical auction, Hill said the 4-H’ers will still be responsible for contacting the buyers. The 4-H’ers also must have shown their livestock in a 4-H show prior to offering their animals for sale in the auction.
Other aspects of the fair that demonstrate the 4-H’ers’ skills will be moved to a virtual platform as well, Hill said. There will be a slideshow posted to kentcountyfair.org with the winners in categories like dress making, cakes, vegetables, photography and more.
The final decision to cancel all in-person fairs statewide was made in June, Hill said, though Kent County’s 4-H board opted to move the fair to a virtual platform prior to that.
“Basically in a month’s time we had to come up with the whole thing,” Hill said in regard to the online format of the fair.
She credited board member Rob Davis with helping to format the online auction system noting Kent County’s fair will be similar to that of Queen Anne’s County.
“We’re very glad that we’ve gone with this platform,” Hill said. “It will allow us to do online entries this year. They’ve really done a good job of making it as simple as possible.”
Speaking to how the 4-H’ers have prepared for the fair given social distancing and stayed in contact, Hill said some of the clubs have been able to meet via the video conferencing platform Zoom.
“Obviously we cannot have in-person club meetings, so I had been, through our Facebook page and through our internal email system, have been sending all kinds of materials and suggestions and things for the kids to supplement,” Hill said. “They had to make the decision to go ahead with any project this year — whether it was a market livestock project that they weren’t sure they were going to be able to do something with to making a dress or anything else.”
Hill said the majority of the county’s 4-H’ers decided to move ahead with their livestock projects with the club’s support where possible. While she said most of the 4-H’ers have raised an animal before for the fair, for some, this year their first year participating.
“It’s been hard and some of the clubs — whether it was technology issues or some families had parents working from home along with online school — an additional online meeting was not what the kids were seeking,” Hill said. “But, about half of our clubs had (online meetings) if nothing else just to chat and say, ‘How are you doing?’ Just so everyone could see their faces.”
Hill said the state’s stay-at-home order has allowed some of the 4-H’ers to spend more time caring for their animals as they have not been able to engage in a normal year’s outside activities.
“This year they were able to concentrate even more on their 4-H projects than maybe some of them have had the opportunity to do in a ‘normal year,’” Hill said. “Certainly the responsibility and care of an animal is hugely important when you’re talking about animal science projects and 4-H, but that is not just what we are. We’re so much more than that.”
Hill said that during the stay-at-home order, 4-H’ers and their families have been sewing masks or providing food saying the Kent County 4-H’ers have “stepped up” their service during this time.
“It’s been tough for kids. They certainly want an in person fair. It’s their favorite time of year. It’s the opportunity they get to socialize, they get to exhibit their expertise in whatever project area they have chosen,” Hill said. “Not having the fair is really tough, but there are interesting and new things that come out like having a virtual auction. We would have never done anything like this in a normal year, so sometimes necessity brings on some benefits as well.”
Despite some silver linings, Hill said she and 4-H’ers are hoping things will be able to return to normal for next year’s fair.
“We hope that 2021 bring us into what we consider a more normal fair,” Hill said. “This is hopefully going to be an anomaly.”