The shows must go on: Virtual fairs replace the traditional Clay County 4-H shows

iStock / Special to The Forum

BARNESVILLE, Minn. — As coronavirus has forced events all over to alter schedules or cancel completely, Minnesota 4-H'ers are now learning to adapt to a situation outside the norm.

For families in Minnesota and all over the country, 4-H is a community of over six million kids and teens who work to make a difference in their own communities. Through hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and civic engagement, 4-H'ers, with guidance from adult volunteers and mentors, are given opportunities to grow into leaders from an early age.

In Minnesota, like with other states, students work throughout the year to complete projects, all culminating in the summertime exhibition at each county's fair. These projects are judged, and students are awarded ribbons, with the best of the best earning a trip to the State Fair to show off their projects to hundreds of thousands of people every day.

But just like with most activities this year, when the coronavirus pandemic threatened to take away this summertime tradition, the men and women at the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development (the group that helps facilitate 4-H programs throughout the state of Minnesota) decided to take things to the web.

"Minnesota 4-H is committed to providing opportunities for 4-H'ers to showcase what they have learned from project work through judging experiences at both the local level and the state level," said Brad Rugg, director for county and state fair programs at the UMN Extension. "We have worked to develop judging experiences that can offer one-on-one feedback from judges. Some counties have opted to provide these opportunities virtually. After an extensive review of COVID-19 protocol expectations, other counties have opted to move forward with in-person judging opportunities."


This means that for counties that opt to use virtual judging, like Clay and surrounding counties, students are invited to submit photos and videos to a virtual portal for judging. Just like in other years, judges will evaluate each project and provide feedback through various virtual platforms, including Zoom, Flipgrid and FairEntry.

While The Great Minnesota Get-Together may be canceled this year, 4-H'ers still have a chance to determine the cream of their crops.

"The 2020 Minnesota State Fair has been cancelled," said Rugg. "Minnesota 4-H supports this difficult decision. In lieu of the State Fair as we knew it, 4-H'ers with non-livestock projects will still have an opportunity to win a trip to a state 4-H sponsored virtual judging experience."

Rugg also mentions that a decision on judging livestock exhibits hasn't yet been decided, but a decision will be made no later than July 15.

Clay County 4-H'ers who have projects for judging had until July 1 to submit their projects, which will be critiqued through an interview-style meeting via Zoom July 9-10. Livestock judging is July 10 and Fashion Revue judging on July 11. All of these are done through Zoom meetings. Winners will be announced via Facebook Live on July 12, with a special section of winners coming out shortly after on

"Many 4-H'ers, 4-H volunteers and 4-H staff have utilized their creativity to develop unique delivery methods for both learning and showcasing that learning," Rugg said. "Postponing opportunities to showcase achievements was never an option."

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