Jackson County 4-H reports strong participation in virtual fair


Taylor Easton made her own confirmation dress, and her brother, Bennett, drew a sandhill crane and a coyote.

Kelsey Schneider made a dress for her eighth grade dance.

Brantley Lewis made a model Pikachu and grew cucumbers.

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Zoe Wischmeier crocheted a pair of colorful baby shoes, and her brother, Wyatt, assembled a model car.

Lincoln Vest painted a picture of his dog, Lucy, and his sister, Tenley, worked with her lamb, Rocky.

Alechi McClellan’s Lego Minecraft CityScape filled a tabletop.

They were among the 648 Jackson County 4-H’ers who turned in projects this year.

Those projects, however, weren’t taken to the 4-H building at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Brownstown to be judged and then displayed for fairgoers to look at during the last week of July.

The fair was canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the county 4-H program was required to offer a virtual exhibition.

Heather VonDielingen, Jackson County 4-H youth development educator, was thrilled to see the high number of exhibitors out of nearly 800 boys and girls in the program. In total, they turned in 1,375 projects.

“I thought if we could have between 400 and 500 entries, I would count that as a success,” she said. “I’m absolutely blown away. People took it very seriously.”

As a comparison, during the 2019 fair, there were 763 exhibitors and 2,874 projects submitted.

“Having so many entries, I think it shows the dedication and hard work that our 4-H members put into their projects every year,” VonDielingen said. “What I’ve been saying since the beginning, the heart of 4-H is the learning that they do through their projects, so they do that all year, and the fair is when they get a chance to put that on public display. What was different this year is just the public display looks different.”

One mother told VonDielingen that her daughter picked up the life skill of electronic file management because 4-H projects had to be entered into the Fair Entry program.

“4-H is all about developing life skills in youth, and so I think with this technology, that’s another skill now they can add to their résumé or to their back pocket,” VonDielingen said.

The kids were all used to electronics because schools closed and switched to eLearning in the spring, and the Fair Entry program was user-friendly.

VonDielingen had 4-H volunteers who judged projects at the county fair in the past and Purdue Extension directors with expertise in certain areas help judge the 4-H building and small animal projects, and agriculture and natural resources educator Richard Beckort found judges for the large animal projects.

4-H’ers had to upload a video and a still image and meet other requirements when submitting their projects, and the judges reviewed them, awarded placings and provided comments.

“Several of the judges said it was just different, it’s strange, but they were all very accommodating and saying, ‘We’ll make this work. We can do this,’” Beckort said. “Ours being a later fair, some of them had already done a few fairs. … All of the judges that we contacted, all of them said, ‘I’ll do my best,’ and they all had the attitude ‘We want to make this the best we can for the kids.’”

Since the livestock auction was done virtually this year, too, and there was no exchange of animals, Beckort said 4-H’ers had to check a box next to their entries if they wanted them included in the auction. Donations collected were added to a pool of money that will be divided between the kids, he said.

As projects were entered online, the Purdue Extension staff double-checked them to ensure everything was done correctly.

“It was definitely different this year, and it was a team effort getting everything approved,” VonDielingen said.

Instead of walking through the 4-H building to see results of their projects, 4-H’ers and their parents can go online to see videos and a list of results. They also can log into the Fair Entry program to see judges’ comments.

Shaun Kendall with 3 to 1 Video made all of the livestock videos along with the fashion revue, creative dramatics and awards program videos, while Purdue Extension Jackson County summer assistants Anna Holle and Erika Lee put the building project videos together.

Purdue Extension printed off the judges’ comments and mailed those and ribbons to the 4-H’ers.

“We are very gracious for the support we did get so we can still give out some awards to the kids,” VonDielingen said.

She also has been impressed with several 4-H clubs still finding ways to meet since the pandemic hit in mid-March.

Bill Baute, a 42-year 4-H tractor club volunteer, and Ross Rieckers, the new club leader, worked with the summer assistants to do virtual meetings with members.

“(Baute) said, ‘You’re never too old to learn something new,’” VonDielingen said. “I was very proud of them for doing that, and it was a very interactive meeting. They put photos up on the screen, and kids had to tell them what was wrong with it and how they could fix it.”

A new rabbit club started in February and only had the chance to meet in person once before switching to Webex, and the Junior Leaders met via Zoom.

“That has been really neat to see some groups actually step up and be able to do that,” VonDielingen said.

Despite the fair being canceled this year, Jackson County 4-H didn’t miss a beat.

“It has really been quite amazing,” VonDielingen said. “We were happy we were still able to have this opportunity, and a lot of people have either called in or stopped in or emailed us and said, ‘Wow! You’re really trying to make it special for the kids.’ Even though it’s not in person, with these high-quality videos, we’re just trying to make it as special as we can.”

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To see 4-H results from this year’s virtual Jackson County Fair, check out the videos online at bit.ly/2020VirtualFairResults and a listing at bit.ly/JacksonCounty2020VirtualFair.


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