Local 4-H and FFA groups are exploring alternative ways for youth to showcase their livestock, artwork, homegrown vegetables and other projects in lieu of traditional state and county fair exhibits.

It was announced June 8 that the Becker County Fair won’t be happening this year, due to COVID-19. The Minnesota State Fair has also been canceled, for the same reason.

The cancellations were a blow to the hundreds of kids who take part in Becker County 4-H and FFA clubs. Typically, the fair is their time to shine, offering a well-populated venue for exhibiting what they’ve made and learned throughout the year, and a public space in which to showcase their animals.

Leigh Nelson-Edwards, program coordinator for Becker County 4-H, said 4-H supports the cancellations, but they’re “heartbreaking” nonetheless.

“We know it’s super disappointing for kids,” she said. “It’s been a disappointing year. But I think kids are adjusting, and now that they know the fair is canceled, it’ll just take time to kind of adapt and have a different mindset.”

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Leigh Nelson-Edwards, Becker County 4-H Extension Educator
Leigh Nelson-Edwards, Becker County 4-H Extension Educator

Nelson-Edwards has been getting a lot of questions from parents, she said, and, “We want to make sure that parents aren’t giving up, and we don’t want kids to throw in the towel and get discouraged, either … We’re a youth development organization, and we’re going to continue offering as many opportunities for kids to learn as we can.”

The 4-H and FFA groups haven’t met in person since March because of COVID-19 social distancing rules, but have met online through Zoom and Google Classroom. Fair exhibitions will likely go this same online route, with kids’ projects displayed and judged in some sort of virtual setting.

Specific plans have yet to be announced but, Nelson-Edwards said, “We’re definitely doing a virtual showcase this year” for 4-H, and Detroit Lakes FFA Advisor Trescha Mitchell said that’s a strong possibility for FFA, too -- especially for nonlivestock projects. If there's any way to incorporate one-on-one or in-person conversations between kids and judges, they'd like to make that happen.

In addition, Mitchell is still hoping to find a way to hold a live animal showcase somewhere, even if it’s not at the fair, and is in front of a small, socially distanced crowd -- but she’s not sure yet what will be allowed or recommended.

“Safety is obviously our number one concern,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want anyone to ever feel unsafe ... But you also want to do what’s right for the kids, too, and I know that kids are really missing out, and, you know, it’s hard.”

“So I’m really hoping we can get something together,” she added. “I know how important being in that arena is. It just means the world to these kids, and it teaches them so much … It takes a lot to hold an animal up and showcase that animal.”

If it turns out an in-person livestock event isn’t possible, Mitchell said, then there will definitely be an opportunity to exhibit online.

Both Mitchell and Nelson-Edwards have been talking with other group leaders and peers across Becker County and the region to share ideas and explore opportunities for collaboration.

As details continue to get hashed out, Mitchell said, she’s reminded every day of how important these programs are to her kids.

"I hear from them all the time," she said. "They text, they Snapchat, they email … They’re always asking questions about, ‘When can we get together? When do we get to see you?' They miss each other, and I miss them.”