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HPJ: Focusing on the 4th H

High Plains Journal:
Focusing on the 4th H

Opinion by Shauna Rumbaugh

*This article was taken directly from the High Plains Journal - July 20, 2020 Edition.

The fireworks have flown and the wheat has been harvested. Farm and ranch families across the High Plains are now busily preparing for another annual summer tradition - the county fair. For most 4-H members, that event will not look the same as in years past.

Although most county fairs in Kansas and other states have not been canceled entirely, many of the public events and special contests associated with the fairs will not happen this year. Other fair activities will continue, buy many will be open only to participating youth. Projects may be dropped off for judging without the traditional one-on-one consultative judging sessions between 4-H members and judges.

State fairs have been canceled or modified around the country as well. Only July 13 the Kansas State Fair Board canceled the state fair after it became clear that many vendors would not be able to participate. Now state fair officials are working with state 4-H leaders to hold youth livestock shows and develop alternative plans for recognizing other 4-H exhibits. 

Traditionally, fairs publicly showcase the project work and livestock of rural  youth and give the community an opportunity to see and celebrate their accomplishments. it's understandable that kids and parents are disappointed that these opportunities to share their skills and be recognized by friends and family will be minimized this year.

But Extension agents, community leaders and other volunteers have been working hard to find creative alternatives, like livestreaming and virtual slideshows, to highlight 4-H members' endeavors. County fairs will look different in 2020, but the shows will go on in a new format.

Adjusting fair schedules and implementing contingency plans isn't that unusual to protect the health and well-being of livestock. Sometimes livestock show plans have to be changed because of extreme heat. Avian flu, porcine epidemic, diarrhea virus and equine herpes have also affected poultry, swine and horse shows at county fairs in recent years.

No one should be surprised that the COVID-19 pandemic requires fair policy changes to protect human exhibitors and spectators, too. Health is one of the four H's in 4-H, after all, along with head, heart and hands.

You don't have to look hard to find anger and criticism directed at the decision-makers who have had to make these difficult decisions and develop alternative plans quickly. How parents and other adult stakeholders respond to these unfortunate but necessary changes serves as a model to our youth.

Don't criticize the Extension agents, fair board members, superintendents and volunteers. Instead, extend grace and thank them for their continued commitment to providing our kids the best experience possible  under the circumstances - even if you disagree with a decision that was made. Offer to help. Follow the social distancing, handwashing and mask guidelines offered to help protect the health and safety of all participants. 

Encourage 4-H members to keep a positive attitude and embrace the changes to make the most of new challenges. The life skills they develop now in resilience, leadership and grit will serve them well in the future.

Maybe one of the alternative fair activities will even become a new tradition.

Shauna Rumbaugh can be reached at 620-227-1805 or


*This article was taken directly from the High Plains Journal - July 20, 2020 Edition.