You can’t keep a good 4-H youth down. Although the Richland County Fair and Rodeo was cancelled, the 4-H portion of the annual event is still being held for participants and their families.

However, the 4-H “fair” is not open to the public this year.

Josie Evenson of Montana State University (MSU) said this year’s 4-H event was not cancelled because the MSU Extension program staff and County Fair Manager Jamie Larson worked diligently to limit the risk to everyone who will participate and attend.

“Four-H is very appreciative that we are able to move forward with, what I would say are, very limited activities,” said Evenson, MSU Richland County 4-H and Youth Development agent.

For example, there will be no contact between judges and youth this year.

“Of course, we’re doing that to limit our person-to-person contact for safety,” Evenson explained, noting that interviews between youth and judges have been eliminated.

In addition to eliminating interviews with judges, this year’s private 4-H show will not feature:

• Food concessions

• Champion of Champions

• Clover Bud Parade

• Awards Ceremony (postponed)

• In-person sale of livestock (planning as a virtual sale)

Evenson, 31, credited Larson, fair board members and the county’s health department personnel with helping her develop a plan that would satisfy state recommendations and local requirements regarding COVID-19 restrictions.

“I’ve been in constant contact with the fair manager since April,” Evenson said of Larson. “We tried to think of all the details to ensure the health of our community and the health of our 4-H members.”

4-H stands for “Head, Hands, Heart and Health,” Evenson noted. “Health is one of the cornerstones of our program.”

With Larson’s assistance and support from the fair board, Evenson said she was able to convince the Richland County commissioners to allow the 4-H portion of the fair to continue under specific guidelines.

“After I had both of those okayed, I shared it with the [Richland County] commissioners,” said Evenson, referring to the groundwork involved in getting approvals from the fair’s board of directors and sign-off from the Richland County Health Department.

Indoor Projects

“Typically what happens is the kids come in with their indoor projects and do about a five-minute interview with the judges,” Evenson explained. “So, this year we’ve eliminated that for health and safety.”

She estimated there are about 200 indoor “static” projects. These include everything from knitting displays to detailed presentations of how the youth raised their particular animals — from rabbits and dogs to horses and cattle.

“If you have an outdoor project, you also have to have an indoor static project,” Evenson explained. “We’re trying to produce well-rounded youth [and] assist them in learning life skills.”

The MSU Extension agent added: “4-H prides itself on teaching life skills.”

Outdoor Projects

One of the most well-publicized aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the virus reportedly is more contagious indoors than it is outdoors. This tracks well with most 4-H fair events, since the outdoor portion of the show is when participants present their animals for judging.

This year’s 4-H “fair” can best be described as a private celebration. Much like high school graduation ceremonies held throughout Richland County during late spring and early summer, the 2020 4-H portion of the fair is being held to make sure youth have an opportunity to show their work. After all, they have dedicated an entire year of their lives to following the principles of 4-H, including persistence.

In order for 4-H to continue with its event this year, much of the plan was developed to limit who can attend the various “shows” within the show, Evenson explained. She noted everyone — including kids, parents and judges — is encouraged to wear face masks throughout the entire event. Participants are also being asked to practice social distancing by staying six feet apart from everyone, and to use hand sanitizers as frequently as possible.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this year’s 4-H “fair” entails controlling crowd sizes. These will be limited to less than 200 people at any given time. Evenson, who has a Master of Science degree, estimated 138 Richland County 4-H members have a livestock project, and there will be approximately 300 animals at the event.

The 4-H youth will be recognized for their hard work. They just won’t have as many people cheering them on this year. The 200-seating limitation for the grandstands is necessary in order to keep groups six feet apart, as per Phase 2 recommendations for local gatherings mandated by the state, and in line with COVID-19 restrictions.

“We can safely seat 200 people,” Evenson said. “That comes from Governor Bullock’s office, with 50 people at six feet between them.”

MSU Extension Agent Tim Fine noted the steer event generally draws the largest crowd.

“The most we’ll have is when the steer show starts,” said Fine.

In addition, two family members will be able to see their respective 4-H youth take pride in showing their carefully raised animals.

“For each 4-H member, they’re allowed to have two people with them during their respective show,” Evenson said, pointing out that in years past participants were typically accompanied by their entire families.

Make no mistake; 4-H youth and event organizers will adhere to certain COVID-19 restrictions and recommended best practices.

To ensure the health and safety of all 4-H participants, families, judges and anyone attending this year’s “private” event, 4-H organizers are methodically mapping out a “show” that allows youth to demonstrate their animal husbandry skills and other talents while closely following social-distancing requirements.

“It will look really different for us,” Evenson said of this year’s 4-H event at the Richland County fairgrounds. “We’ve eliminated quite a few things for health reasons.”

Evenson deserves credit for bringing together the Richland County Fair and Rodeo manager and board of directors, the county Health Department and the county commissioners to ensure the community’s 4-H youth are able to show their hard work this year.

The fact that Evenson is an ordained minister is not lost upon people who know her, like MSU colleagues.

“I can marry people,” Evenson said.

Indeed.

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