4-H is known as a hands-on organization working with livestock, agriculture, healthy living, civic engagement, photography and more, but with COVID-19, hands-on took on a different approach.
Waseca County 4-H strove to reach as many students as possible through the virtual programs from the spring through the summer.
It is run through the University of Minnesota Extension program. Since it is following University rules, in-person meetings moved online until July when meetings in-person continued with restrictions.
“One thing we’re proud about in 4-H is when other youth groups stopped their programming, we kept going through Zoom,” 4-H Youth Development Coordinator Amy Nelson said. “We say that we’re virtually unstoppable, because we keep going on.”
When COVID-19 caused schools and businesses to close in mid-March 4-H didn’t continue in-person events, but chose to alter the programs to continue offering programming to students.
Instead of the traditional 4-H camp, the organization revamped it to an at-home experience where students still got their 4-H shirt, but did the programs at-home. There were live sessions and recorded sessions throughout the days that the students did on their own time.
“We tried to focus on the main 4-H camp educational things,” Nelson said. “It was still our outdoor adventure stuff and education and the usual crafts and outdoor activities. ...Tried to take the normal traditional elements of 4-H camp and figure out how families could do it at-home.”
Another activity students had the opportunity to participate in virtually is a horseless horse camp online. The class took place live online over four weeks where students learned the aspects of caring for a horse.
Nelson said 4-H offered computer coding as well as more projects than a normal summer, due to no county fairs or day camps for the students.
Parents signed up their students for project kits that got mailed to the houses of the students. The project kits included corn or soybeans in a bucket to grow, potato bags to grow and other project options for students.
Some of the project kits had a dual purpose to also get used for competitions.
“We were still able to offer those in-person achievement days in Waseca County,” Nelson said.
Judging for static projects took place over Zoom. Students submitted their projects ahead of time to be judged. Photography, crafts and fine art, food preservation, agronomy kits turning into an exhibit, herb gardening and other things are what judges judged, according to Nelson.
Locally judged livestock shows offered in-person competition with regulations.
The judged events stayed closed to the public for safety. To provide the community a chance to watch the competition from home, 4-H offered it free through live streaming.
Before the students brought their animals to be judged they had to do an at-home health check as a part of the COVID-19 precaution. Once at the event, the students did another health check and wore masks at all times. The high-touch areas got frequent sanitation.
Students arrived, showed their animals and left instead of setting up their area for an entire week like a regular fair season.
“It was a little different than coming and setting up to show for a whole week, but they were grateful to have the opportunity to come,” Nelson said.
Those students who earned a blue ribbon continued onto state judging, which had changes to it as well this year.
The livestock judging took place through pre-recorded videos that broadcast during specific times of the day instead of an in-person live judging. The students had 90 seconds to show their animal in a video at specific angles at times and walk their animal.
Judges gave typical critiques of the animal in the video and presented feedback to the students on the results.
“It was different, but it was very nicely done,” Nelson said. “I know we had some great feedback from some of our families who participated. ...The safety of our participants is always our No. 1 goal whether in-person or online so I can confidently say that all of our events are offered in a safe manner.”
Nelson said local businesses and donors helped support 4-H during COVID-19 with expenses, like the judges for the local competition.
“Because of those donors that really stepped up and helped make sure our judging experiences happened this summer we’re okay,” Nelson said of 4-H funds. “We have been very generously supported by community members and organizations and businesses, who have allowed us to keep offering programs.”
A lot of the 4-H expenses are scholarships for kids to participate in the State Fair, retreats and leadership programs. With COVID-19 this year a lot of these expenses dropped down due to most being held virtually.
COVID-19 changed how the end of the 2020 4-H season looked, but Nelson said there are some things that will continue after in-person resumes fully.
Sending project kits to students is something Nelson can see continuing and growing in the future. Due to COVID-19 students haven’t met in-person monthly like normal, but it has worked well over Zoom for the short meetings, which allowed more students to participate. Transportation is no longer an issue for some, taking away another barrier that keeps some from participating.
Students can join 4-H anytime throughout the year, but the membership drive is happening during National 4-H week from Oct. 4-10.
Typically there is an in-person meeting to answer questions, but with COVID-19 the meeting changed to a membership motorcade parade.
Interested families signed up to learn more about 4-H through the motorcade parade that delivers information to their home on Oct. 8.