Wadena County 4-Hers miss educating the public
More than a few tears were shed at the announcement of no Wadena County Fair that would have kicked off this week. But the sadness went beyond a lack of cheese curds to the loss of an opportunity to share and showcase important skills.
When the Wadena County Fair board announced their cancellation of the June 18-21 fair, the Wadena County 4-Hers had already had no face-to-face club meetings or junior leadership camp and their months-long projects would not be showcased to the community.
As 4-H is an extension of the University of Minnesota, the guidelines of no in-person activities were placed until the end of June, though 4-Hers could participate in online lessons related to their project areas, according to University of Minnesota Extension educator for 4-H Youth Development in Wadena County Kim Dailey.
“The overall response from all the 4-H families has been very positive. They’re extremely supportive and in turn I am trying to support them as well because 4-H doesn’t have to be the top priority. Priorities should be schooling, education, job, feeding your kids. 4-H is a bonus,” Dailey said.
During this time, 4-Hers have continued their projects, taken a step back or added extra projects with the judging being completed virtually for non-livestock projects and hopefully in-person for livestock projects, according to Dailey. Members can choose to have their projects judged in the Virtual Achievement Days on Aug. 7-9, though they are not open to the public. The university has approved the in-person livestock judging, which Dailey hopes to have at the fairgrounds 4-H building depending on the county board’s decision.
The 4-H members will be judged on criteria similar to the fair with the non-livestock projects uploading pictures or videos on Flipgrid or SmugMug and answering questions such as what did you learn and what would you do differently, according to Dailey.
“They will still get ribbons and they’ll still get the feeling of accomplishment, they’ll still get the achievement and the opportunity to move forward with their champion exhibit,” Dailey said.
The champion exhibits could be judged in an online state fair in the fall, though plans are not yet finalized, according to Dailey.
Dailey is also planning to partner with Wadena County businesses in the fall to highlight members’ projects.
“Overall, it’s been a very challenging summer for 4-H as well but there’s such a positive vibe going on with all the families. I think the one thing that rural communities are really good at is pivoting … they face adversity a lot but they figure out how to get around it,” Dailey said.
The Wadena County 4-H program includes 222 members in nine community clubs, three project clubs and one after school club, according to Dailey.
Pine Cone 4-H Club, Menahga
“It’s going to be very different because it’s not like showing to the public audience,” said Emma Jackson, a 10 year 4-Her. “I feel like it’s not as great when you don’t help other people learn about rabbits and help teach the other people who are just beginning to learn about rabbits and show rabbits.”
During her previous county fairs, Jackson has enjoyed the interactive approach of teaching those passing by about rabbits. This year she was scheduled to show two Blue New Zealands and one Dutch rabbit, with the judging criteria on structure and fullness for the New Zealands and color for the Dutch. Jackson was also to show other non-livestock projects.
“I really enjoy showing rabbits because everyone in the rabbit community is very kind to each other,” Jackson said.
In order to show her rabbits, Jackson feeds and handles them since rabbits are prey animals that need to gain familiarity with people.
Besides the rabbits, Jackson is in 4-H for the people and being able to participate in activities together.
“When I first got into it there were girls that showed me how to show rabbits and how to prepare your rabbit … what to look out for in your rabbit … and I’m willing to teach someone else that,” Jackson said.
West Jolly Jets 4-H Club, Sebeka
“This year’s actually my last year as a 4-Her so I was just excited to enjoy my last fair and … I’m not going to lie, I cried a little when I found out they weren’t going to have fair,” said Lexi Pickar, a five year 4-Her.
With the freedom in art and difficulty in horses, Pickar was set to show her art, photography and horses. She has been working on paintings, pictures of her dog and nature and with her horses showmanship, barrels, and a jumping figure eight.
“I rode horses all my life. My grandma got me my first pony when I was 4-years-old and I just had a lot of friends that were in 4-H and then when I finally got a horse that I could use for 4-H I finally got to join,” Pickar said.
Pickar now has a few different horses to ride for 4-H, including a 5-year-old horse she is bonding with since she started training in April. Each spring means dealing with snappy and moody horses who haven’t been ridden often in the winter, according to Pickar.
While Pickar has been in many high school activities, she recommends 4-H to people because of the ways you learn to push yourself, the memories and the people.
“During 4-H I’ve learned that sometimes you have to be a leader but at the same time you need to learn how to be a follower too and learn from new people,” Pickar said. “I’ve also learned that even when things get hard that you need to keep pushing through because things will get better and the harder you work for something then when it actually turns out … the overall accomplishment just feels that much better because you worked so hard for it.”
Hoppin’ Hares 4-H Club, Wadena
“This year has been very different. I am very … technology advanced but this is a lot more because you have to make sure that you know how to work your Zoom calls and all these things of saying, ‘Oh, this is what my goats and my rabbit are up to and this and this and this,’” said Jayma Lawson, a 9-year 4-Her.
After being convinced by her mom to join 4-H, Lawson started with rabbits and worked her way up to showing goats and their “spunkiness.”
With 65 rabbits and 10 goats to raise, Lawson spends 20 minutes daily with her goats including petting, walking and helping them get used to her. On the weekends, she checks for knots in the rabbits’ fur. Lawson also shows dogs, animal science posters and photography projects.
“I love talking about my animals, telling them about it, trying to get other people like the public into 4-H because I’m so into it I would love to have more people experience what I experience,” Lawson said. “I love just having conversations with people.”
The fair’s judging criteria for her Angora rabbits would have included appearance, body quality, fur and reproduction value. For meat goats the criteria is based on meat quality and appearance and the criteria for milk goats is based on full udders and reproduction value, according to Lawson.
Lawson’s love for animals also comes with the desire to educate others and continue learning.
“Every year (in 4-H) you’re going to learn something that you didn’t know the year before and you’re going to teach somebody else something new that they didn’t know, so it’s just really this learning and teaching experience every year,” Lawson said.