OTTUMWA — The month of March brings more than just warmer weather to the state of Iowa.
With spring on the horizon, local 4-H members can usually be found continuing to put in the work to prepare for the summer when local county fairs and expos can be found throughout the calendar from the earlier fairs in mid-June to the Iowa State Fair in August.
This March, however, was unlike any seen before for those in charge of 4-H and those participating in the program. The COVID-19 virus has left many things about everyday life uncertain heading into April.
For Iowa 4-H, the new reality is that nothing in 2020 is certain at this point. Livestock weigh-ins have been cancelled through May 9, identification deadlines for most projects have been pushed back to June 1 and county extension offices are being asked to work with families to obtain official 4-H ear tags or set up on-farm tagging if county staff are comfortable.
Those are just the short-term impacts of the coronavirus outbreak. The long-term impact could still be felt during the summer should more social distancing be required, causing events like fairs and expos to be canceled in the name of long-term public health.
Iowa 4-H is weathering the changes to our lives as best we can,” Wapello County 4-H youth coordinator Cindy Emery said. “COVID-19 has impacted 4-H at the club, county, state and national level. Our clubs are usually very busy this time of year getting ready for summer activities like fairs.”
Preparation for fairs isn’t the only way in which 4-H programs have been impacted by the coronavirus. Clubs are having to adjust to the social distancing guidelines, recommending a limit on gatherings of 10 or more people.
“Many of our club meetings are being adapted to be virtual,” Emery said. “Volunteers and staff have done a great job adjusting and adapting to make sure youth can still engage in 4-H.”
Besides several county events and activities scheduled throughout most of the spring, state 4-H events such as Equine Extravaganza in June have also been postponed as have national events including the National 4-H Conference, which will now take place in September. Interviews for State Recognition Day have also been transformed into an online interview event.
“Many of those events are the culmination of years of work in 4-H,” Emery said. “We are doing our best to reschedule and adjust our programs to ensure youth can still participate whenever possible.”
While there are no events to travel to, 4-H members can continue to work on various projects. Livestock, horticulture, agriculture, creative arts, clothing, baking, science, engineering and technology projects can all be worked on even while practicing social distancing.
“Short term, youth are adapting to this changing environment and are still able to work on their projects remotely,” Emery said. “Volunteers are helping through calls, virtual meetings and online teaching tools. We are adjusting deadlines and weigh-ins to accommodate pandemic directives, but we are hoping things will improve in time for summer activities.”
That is what is very much on the horizon for 4-H chapters throughout the state. As of now, no county fair dates in Iowa have been impacted by the coronavirus with the Worth County Fair first up on the statewide calendar starting on June 17.
One day later, the Wapello County Fair in Eldon begins, lasting through June 21. Two days later, the six-day Greater Jefferson County Fair begins in Fairfield lasting throughout the week of June 23-29.
The Wapello County Expo in Ottumwa is still scheduled to take place July 12-18, around the same time that both the Keokuk County Fair (July 10-12) and Expo (July 12-19) are scheduled to be held. The Davis County Fair in Bloomfield (July 14-19), the Appanoose County Fair in Centerville (July 20-25), the Southern Iowa Fair in Oskaloosa (July 20-25) and the Van Buren County Fair in Keosauqua (July 20-27) are also three months away, hopefully enough time to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus enough for 4-H members to display their exhibits.
“We are optimistic that situations will improve in time for our summer activities like fairs,” Emery said. “Right now, we are in a wait-and-see mode.”