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With Fair canceled, 4H moves forward virtually

Salenah Drake and Moose would have been active at the Warren County Fair, Aug. 11 through 15.

It’s Fair Week.

Only this year, it’s not.

The COVID-19 pandemic led the Fair Board to cancel the Fair.

That means, among other things, that young people who have worked all year long to be ready to put their efforts on display at the Fair need another outlet.

As many as 175 4H members would typically be ready to go today or putting the finishing touches on preparations for the Fair.

Photos submitted to Times Observer Bryceton Maille would have exhibited Tucker, his new draft horse project in the 4-H program, at the 2020 Warren County Fair. Bryceton's sister, Katelyn Bundy, is a co-leader of the Sanford Saddles & Spurs 4-H Club.

“We would have a ton of 4Hers moving in to the Fair,” Audrey Ferrie, a senior 4H member and Pennsylvania 4H State Council Vice-President of Operations, said Friday. “A lot of kids would be packing their trailers right now, getting their exhibits ready.”

That is not to be.

The 4H leaders not only understand the reasons for the Fair Board’s decision, but they know decisions made by the national 4H restricting face-to-face programming played a role.

“We absolutely understand the reason behind not having the Fair,” 4H Extension Educator Jennifer Grooms said. “4H members are probably 75 to 80 percent of the exhibitors. If the kids can’t come and exhibit… (the Fair’s) numbers were going to be very small.”

Understanding the reasons doesn’t help the disappointment.

Katharine Smith demonstrates her showmanship skills with her swine project. The 4-H livestock clubs hold Round-Up each year at the Warren County Fair. Round-Up offers an opportunity for members to exhibit the skills they have learned throughout the 4-H year.

“I know that a lot of 4Hers are really just feeling saddened,” Ferrie said.

“It’s a time that they get to connect with the community.”

“It’s as if they’re missing a big family reunion – being together, having that opportunity to reminisce on years past,” Grooms said.

“This whole year has been spent with trying to connect with 4Hers virtually and, when I heard that there was cancellation of the Fair, I was trying to come up with a new way to highlight what 4Hers have been up to,” Ferrie said. “Mainly because they were losing that week that they get to display a whole year’s worth of dedication and hard work. A whole year of getting ready for the Fair.”

Knowing the usual outlet wouldn’t happen this year, Ferrie made a video inviting 4Hers to share their efforts and show that their work and dedication lived on through the pandemic.

Audrey Ferrie and Cooper will finish their 4-H career in 2020. In addition to Audrey's local club connections, she is serving her final year as the Pennsylvania 4-H State Council Vice President of Operations.

“In my video, I challenge them to live by our motto – To Make the Best Better – and shine light on what all the Warren County 4Hers have been up to this year since we don’t have Fair to highlight our project animals.”

From that video, Ferrie has created several videos featuring 4Hers.

“They sent me pictures and video clips,” she said. “I put them together and will post them throughout the week to highlight 4Hers’ hard work and dedication that I know has not run dry and give them a chance to be seen across the county.”

“Total, throughout the whole event, I had about 25 members help me out with this,” she said.

She plans to post those videos at 10 a.m. starting Tuesday for each day of the ‘Fair,’

Brice Ludwick poses with his calf, Leopard, who would have been exhibited during fair week.

“Saturday is going to be a flashback on Fair,” Ferrie said.

“Each video should be around 1 to 2 minutes,” she said. “They can be found on the Penn State Extension, Warren County Facebook page.”

Local membership was strong at the beginning of the pandemic, and the leaders hope members, including new members, will stick with 4H and give it a chance when circumstances return to something more like normal.

“The 4H is family-based and the backbone is understanding agriculture and where the food comes from,” Grooms said. “All of the other program areas that come about from that. We want to teach them leadership, problems solving, goal setting. It’s open to anybody.”

“We have a little bit of everything,” she said. “We have an art club, animals, our engineering club.”

Photo submitted to Times Observer Bathing and cleaning animals is a messy job but Rylee Nickerson makes it look easy. The 4-H beef project members identify their animals in November each year to begin developing for the fair in August.

“When you can’t meet face-to-face… to teach and focus on project-related skills, it hampers what we are able to do,” she said. “We are hoping there will be a vaccine and we will be able to move forward with face-to-face.”

Posting videos of local 4Hers demonstrating the fruits of their labors isn’t the same as receiving tens of thousands of visitors at the Fair, but it’s something.

“It’s not going to be the same as being seen in person but I hope to shine light on the 4Hers,” Ferrie said. “Although it’s not the same as Fair week, I hope to lift 4Hers spirits and keep 4H going.”

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