With many fairs canceled by coronavirus, 4-H helps kids market livestock themselves

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

With summer fast approaching, many York County 4-H students would be preparing to showcase their livestock at county fairs — if they had any shows to attend.

With many popular fairs canceling amid COVID-19 concerns, 4-H students are left wondering how they will market the animals they've been raising for months.

"If a county show gets canceled, then what do you do?" said Linda Spahr, a 4-H extension educator in the York County office of Penn State Extension. "I think people hopefully will be able to buy some of these animals and get a good product that was raised in a very loving atmosphere."

Many kids who are involved with 4-H's livestock and agriculture program gain entrepreneurship skills by attending county shows to sell their animals, and they will instead focus more on direct marketing to family and friends this year, Spahr said. 

Other methods Spahr is exploring include virtual showcases where students take videos of their animals to post online.

Justin Werner, 17, poses for a photo with his steer 9-month-old Bubba, left, and 14 month old Spot in West Manheim Township, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Werner has been showing animals through 4-H for nine years. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Justin Werner, 17, a 4-H student in the beef and swine clubs, is getting ready to market three beef steer this summer. Justin, a West Manheim Township resident who goes to South Western High School, has been attending livestock shows for nine years. 

"I wish we could have a show to make sales, but you take your losses and move on," he said. "We're in a state of emergency; you can't be too upset about it."

While most of the shows Justin was planning to attend have been canceled, he said he's hoping the York State Fair will still be able to take place.

York's 4-H, which has been an integral part of the York Fair since its start, is expanding into a larger role this year, being featured in Memorial Hall West as part of the Ag Education Center, according to Bryan Blair, CEO for the fair. The York Fair is changing its name to the York State Fair beginning with this year's event.

"Our goal is to strengthen the bond between the fair and 4-H moving forward because youth and the future of the fair go hand in hand," Blair wrote in an email. "I cannot wait for our fair guests to experience all that they can do for our youth and community despite the impact of COVID-19 recently."

The York State Fair is still on schedule for July, the first time the event will be held in the summer, officials said. 

"At this point we are still moving forward with the 2020 York State Fair," Blair said.

Justin Werner, 17, demonstrates how dries the coat of his steer in West Manheim Township, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Werner has been showing animals through 4-H for nine years. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In addition to navigating difficulties associated with the 4-H agriculture and livestock programs, many educators are navigating new terrain and pivoting to the virtual world in order to deliver the same activities to kids and teenagers.

"For an old lady like me, it's quite an adjustment," Spahr said. "As we're moving forward with this whole thing, we're trying to come up with things young people want to do."

Hosting her club meetings through Zoom, Spahr and  Penn State Extension have already held a number of events for 4-H students, including public speaking contests and online "Jeopardy."

All in-person events hosted by Penn State Extension through June 19 have either been canceled or postponed, including several contests, summer camps and livestock shows.

4-H riders perform at the 104th Pennsylvania Farm Show Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. Saturday was the first day of the week-long farm show. Bill Kalina photo

While anything involving human contact is off the table for now, Spahr said Penn State Extension has been working to create new programs virtually, including online summer camp, special interest clubs and contests. 

About 30 4-H clubs in York County also have  moved online. According to its website, 4-H is America’s largest youth development organization. 

4-H relies heavily on in-person club meetings in order to help kids gain leadership skills and improve public speaking, Spahr said. 

During the shutdown, 4-H organizations are continuing to hone these skills by hosting a variety of contests and weekly club meetings.

"I'm looking forward to the time when we can get back together, because I miss face-to-face contact," Spahr said. "The kids are learning a lot about leadership and how to run meetings — it's hard to do that virtually."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.