OHIO VALLEY — 4-H members throughout Ohio are experiencing a different look to the typical style of 4-H events this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, Ohio State 4-H Youth Development announced that all Ohio State University (OSU) Extension in-person events and meetings would be canceled through July 6. Additionally, all 4-H camps through August 31 are canceled. However, virtual programming will continue during the closures and members are encouraged to work on their 4-H projects.
Michelle Stumbo, extension educator and area leader, said they are figuring out ideas for virtual meetings and camp activities during the summer months.
Nancy Sydenstricker, Meigs County 4-H Youth Development educator, said many members do not have their books yet, as the enrollment deadline was on April 1. OSU Extension and the 4-H organization are working on providing online book ordering at a discounted price for members and families to receive their books before offices open.
Sydenstricker also said that Ohio 4-H is now offering 18 projects that members can do from home by downloading a file. These stay-at-home projects can be found at ohio4h.org/stayathomeprojects. The projects include sewing, leisure arts, creative writing, genealogy, cooking and baking, natural resources and more.
Stumbo said she has been in contact with other county leaders about how they will be handling project judging, which is currently scheduled for the week of July 6 in Meigs County. Stumbo said these scenarios may include virtual options if the cancellations or stay-at-home order get extended.
Tracy Winters, Gallia County Extension 4-H Youth educator, said that Gallia County’s judging dates were currently set for July 8 and July 10. They have discussed plans to host some of the judgings online, but everything is tentative at this point.
“Obviously, it’s not ideal, but there are some options,” Stumbo said. “We’re hoping that we have in-person judging and we’ll plan for that, but we’ll have a back up plan in case that doesn’t happen.”
Sydenstricker said for the enrollment deadline, they allowed forms to be submitted by email, mail or in the drop box outside of the extension office. The enrollment forms are typically submitted by the club, Sydenstricker said, but they allowed individuals to submit their own forms to eliminate contact between several people. The office also delayed the deadline to pay enrollment fees until clubs can meet in person again.
Stumbo said they have not analyzed the enrollment numbers yet, so they are unsure of how many members have registered for livestock projects. Stumbo said the members who have registered to take market steers have had their animals for several months. The members who selected to show turkeys picked up their animals this week.
Many local 4-H leaders have said it is up to each family on whether or not they choose to purchase a market animal for their 4-H projects.
“Honestly, if I were looking at it as a parent, … I probably wouldn’t have spent more money than what I could afford to put in my freezer if that need arises,” Stumbo said.
Winters posted on the county’s extension Facebook page that each family needs to look at their budget before purchasing the animal.
“… We know every family’s budget is different and there is always a risk to buying livestock,” Winters said. “I would encourage you to be realistic and set a budget when buying your fair animals.”
Winters also encouraged those who are purchasing market animals to support local breeds who are depending on the local fairs for their income.
Sydenstricker said that the Meigs County quality assurance (QA) trainings for members with livestock projects have been adjusted due to the cancellation of events. QA is being offered online during the month of April for a discounted rate of $9. Meigs County will also have the test-out option for those at least 16 years old on July 7 during the miscellaneous judging. There will be one face-to-face training at the Meigs County Fairgrounds on July 11.
The dates to tag in animals in Meigs County are currently scheduled for May 9 for feeders, hogs, goats and sheep. Rabbits and chickens will be tagged on July 18. Stumbo said she is not sure how the fair board will proceed with these events. Stumbo was set to attend an online session on Friday about virtual tag-in options — which allow members to take pictures of all angles of the animal as well as identification, such as farm tags or ear notches. Stumbo said Gallia County already has this type of virtual tag in for some species.
Winters said that Gallia County 4-H members have until May 15 to possess their animals. Gallia County’s QA trainings were set for April, but those have been canceled. Winters said the extension office will be offering QA session online rather than setting new dates.
Stumbo said as of now, all county fairs in Ohio are still on schedule. The Ohio Fair Mangers Association (OFMA) and the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) have leadership over the county fairs and they will ultimately make the decision to continue with fairs for 2020 or cancel.
“At this point, OFMA and ODA haven’t canceled any fairs, but that depends on when the governor’s group gathering order gets lifted,” Stumbo said. “Hopefully ours is late enough that we will be out of this by then.”
The Meigs County Fair is currently schedule for Aug. 17-22. Gallia County Fair is scheduled for Aug. 3-8.
“I am still hopeful that we will have our fair, but like you, we do not know what the future holds and things continue to change each day,” Winters said. “What I do know is that 4-H has always been more than just the one week of the fair. The countless hours and lessons our members learn while working on their projects is the real benefit that stays with them and the life lessons they will take with them beyond their 4-H years.”
Stumbo said that 4-H clubs can use the OSU Extension’s Zoom account to have virtual meetings on video during this time. She also said that some clubs have Facebook group pages for their 4-H club where they post videos of projects and demonstrations.
“One of the things I’m astounded by is the creativity that people keep coming up with. I never would have thought of mailing out fabric to a virtual meeting,” Stumbo said. “I think some of the creativity that’s going to come out of this year helps set up for some future activities.”
Both Meigs and Gallia counties are actively posting on Facebook pages to keep families informed of the next steps and to provide activities to complete while at home.
“We live in a tremendous county that has a tremendous support of 4-H, I firmly believe that the county will come together and do whatever possible to support these kids at the end of the fair season,” Stumbo said. “However, I think it might be a year that there might not be as much ability to support in some of our local businesses.”
Sydenstricker said that although 4-H may not look the same this year as it typically does, the organization will bounce back.
“People shouldn’t get discouraged about 4-H this year, no matter how it comes down. It just is what it is, just like everything else in our lives right now,” Sydenstricker said. “4-H is not going to change. 4-H was built on a foundation and that foundation is always going to be the same, regardless.”
The extension offices will be closed to the public, but officials can still be contacted through their regular numbers and emails. For any questions regarding Meigs County 4-H, call (740) 992-6696. For questions regarding Gallia County 4-H, call (740) 446-7007.
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Kayla Hawthorne is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, ext. 1992.