Monroe County 4-H youth are still preparing their animals and stitching together sewing projects to present to judges and bidders. But this year, they’ll present all their projects online.
To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Monroe County Fair will be online this year, as announced in May.
The annual fair ties its members and visitors to a 100-year-old tradition, said Katie Frew, 4-H youth development extension educator. It’s an opportunity to show off what the members have created or raised and to compete with people that they have grown up with. The decision to cancel the in-person fair was disappointing, she said, but necessary for safety. In Stage 4.5 of Indiana's reopening plan, fairs are allowed, but people must be able to socially distance.
“It was a lot of learning as well as hard decisions being made,” Frew said. “Ultimately, we’re trying to do everything we can to keep everybody safe and healthy so we can get back to it in 2021.”
The decision to go virtual was made by the Monroe County Fair Board and the Monroe County 4-H Board in consultation with the county government. Anna Vincel, an eight-year 4-H member and recent Bloomington High School North graduate, sits on the 4-H board as a Junior Leader Club representative. She originally voted for the fair to be in-person this year, but switched her final vote for a virtual fair.
Vincel missed out on many rites of passage that come with being a high school senior, including prom and a typical graduation ceremony, but she also is missing her last summer to compete in a typical 4-H fair.
“With it being my last year, I really wanted it to be in person because I wanted it to be as normal as possible,” Vincel said. “In the end, it was a better decision to make it virtual, despite all my personal feelings for it to be in person.”
4-H has been a major part of Vincel’s life. She has shown pigs, including Archie and Princess in 2019, almost every year through her involvement in Swine Club, she promotes 4-H as a 4-H Ambassador and taught kids through the 4-H Teens as Teachers program. She was also a counselor at 4-H Camp throughout high school and interned at the Purdue Extension office.
For the virtual fair, Vincel will take video clips of her animal and submit them to a bidding website. This year, winning bidders won’t receive the animal. Instead, the members will decide what to do with them. Vincel will donate the meat from her pig to Saul to Paul, a faith-based men’s rehabilitation program.
This year’s fair is also the last for Isabelle Bartlett, a Bloomington High School South graduate. The 10-year member has completed almost 200 projects, including cooking, tractor driving, gift wrapping, genealogy, photography and showing cats. She’s said she’s proudest of her drawings and sewing projects.
Bartlett said she had a feeling the fair would be canceled.
“I guess there isn’t as much pressure, but it does make me sad that this is how I’m going to end my last year,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett completed 15 projects at her first fair and completed 33 projects two years in a row. This year she took it easy with five, she said, as she pulled a needle through the fabric of a sewing project.
She said she hopes that the online fair won’t deter younger members from sticking with 4-H or from joining. 4-H was where she made her closest friends.
“They’re pretty much my siblings at this point,” Bartlett said. “They’re my siblings, they’re more than just friends.”
Bartlett is working toward a business degree at Ivy Tech Community College this summer.
Another 10-year member, Brendan Bailey, has shown pigs, cows and lambs and participated in Junior Leaders club. Some of his projects include mixed hay, woodworking and crops.
He said he usually loves hanging out with friends at the county fair throughout the week and showing his animals, but the decision to cancel the fair was in the community’s best interest.
“I still feel like it was the best and safest thing the Monroe County Fair Board and 4-H Board could’ve done,” Bailey said.
He graduated from Whiteland Community High School and will go to the University of Southern Indiana for mechanical engineering.
Vincel said even if they voted for an in-person fair, the strict guidelines and rising cases of COVID-19 could have resulted in a last-minute cancellation. She said committing to an online fair was better than nothing.
“We wanted to have a well put together, planned fair, and that’s what we have,” Vincel said. “So I’m super grateful for everyone.”