Oregon 4-H club finds innovative way around fair cancellation
For many, the cancellation of this year’s Dane County Fair means a summer with no funnel cakes or rides on the Ferris wheel. But for members of 4-H, it means missing out on showcasing projects they’ve been working on all year.
Since May when their biggest events of the year, the Dane County and Stoughton Fairs, canceled in-person events amid the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Oregon Headliners 4-H Club have worked to create a safe way for participants to show their work.
“The leaders were thinking, ‘What should we do so the kids can still have the experience and keep 4-H as a part of their life during such a hard time?’” said Alexa Stoffels, a sophomore at Oregon High School and the Headliners club president. “4-H and being creative can be such a great outlet for kids and teens to let out emotions.”
The group came up with the idea to hold a socially-distanced, drive-thru fair. On Saturday, the public can drive by tables lined up at the Country View Equine Clinic in Oregon, where 4-H members will show off their artwork, photography, vegetables, flowers, cakes, clothing and more.
The event has been a motivator for 4-H’ers to continue making meaningful projects throughout the pandemic, Stoffels said.
“Everyone was really upset and at a loss as to what to think and where to go, so it was really a roadblock in our season, but we ended up pushing through,” Stoffels said.
Lara Day, a veterinarian and owner of HEAL Integrative Veterinary Center in Madison, helped organize the drive-thru fair. As a mother of several 4-H members, she was disappointed her children wouldn’t be able to show their projects but agreed with the decision to prioritize safety.
“Of course we’re sad because the fair is such a big deal,” she said. “So many of the families spend the full four days there, but everybody wants to be safe. 4-H isn’t just about fairs, it’s more about what you’ve learned. But it’s nice to have that ‘This is what I did over the past year’ feeling.”
For safety, each participating family will be wearing masks and be assigned their own table. Individuals showing their projects will be able to talk about their projects with people who drive through.
While many of the participants typically show animals, they aren’t planning to show those at this event. But the club has encouraged participants to get creative and bring photos or videos of animals, Stoffels said.
For Mila Day, a fourth grader at Brooklyn Elementary School, this is her first summer in 4-H and her second time showing since the fall. She will be presenting her photography, art, writing and vegetables.
“Last year, I couldn’t show my peppers because there was a caterpillar eating them and it came out during the fair,” she said.
She hopes her veggies are ready by Saturday — and is optimistic that this time, the caterpillars will stay away. A story she wrote called “The Magical Cat” will also be on display, as well as photos she has taken of landscapes and animals.
One thing that the 4-H’ers are going to miss is the chance to get feedback from judges. Some members have submitted projects online to be judged, but at the event this weekend, feedback from the public and each other will have to suffice, Stoffels said.
“I’m really proud of everyone coming together in the club, especially in such a hard time,” Stoffels said. “We can still come together safely and have something to look at and be proud of at the end of the year.”