WILLMAR — The 4-H lambs born early this winter that siblings Luke and Emily Ruter would have taken to the Kandiyohi County Fair in early August — and possibly the Minnesota State Fair in late August — are feeling their oats on a pleasant Friday afternoon.
The brother and sister wade into the pen of sheep and they each wrangle a white lamb into a blue-ribbon pose for a photo.
But Luke, 16, and Emily, 14, won’t be taking their sheep to any fair this year — unless it’s some type of virtual 4-H show, which is in the beginning planning stages for Kandiyohi County.
On Thursday the Kandiyohi County Fair Board announced it had canceled the 120th annual fair because of COVID-19, and on Friday the Minnesota State Fair's board of managers made a similar announcement.
While disappointed the County Fair has been canceled, the Ruters, who belong to the Arctander Aces 4-H club, said they understand the reasons why.
“It (the fair) is always a fun time of year for me and my family, but it’s the safest decision for everyone,” said Luke, a junior at New London-Spicer High School.
“Yeah, it’ll keep us healthy,” said Emily, an eighth-grader at NLS.
The two said they hope there will be some kind of virtual 4-H show in place of the fair. “Anything they’re trying would be better than nothing,” said Luke.
That’s exactly what’s in the works for Kandiyohi County 4-H'ers, said Mikayla Frey, University of Minnesota extension educator in Kandiyohi County.
Frey said the local 4-H council is determined to showcase 4-H achievements but that “it might look a little different this year.”
Frey sent emails to 4-H families Friday, telling youth to keep working on their 4-H projects and asking them to respond to a survey about what type of event kids would like in place of the fair — and what type of event parents would feel comfortable with.
Some of the possible options include a total online experience with remote judging, a combination of remote judging and dropping off projects for hands-on judging, in-person judging with restrictions for social distancing, or a mixture of options.
The input from families will help determine what the event will look like in an attempt to replace the experiences of being at the County Fair, said Frey. “We’re trying to figure out the best way to have those memories and those moments.”
A statewide meeting will be held Tuesday with youth 4-H leaders regarding possible options for the State Fair.
It’s expected that more area counties will be making decisions soon on their county fairs. Currently in surrounding counties, the fairs in Yellow Medicine County and Pope County are also canceled.
Frey said the early decision by the Kandiyohi County Board to cancel the fair was helpful to 4-H leaders who would now be in the process of organizing judges, purchasing awards and buying supplies for the food booth, which is the biggest fundraiser for the county 4-H program.
Meanwhile, the 4-H program is continuing a healthy variety of online programs for youth. An at-home, crime scene investigation camp in June will feature a local law enforcement investigator who will teach kids about gathering evidence.
Frey said it’s hoped that other programs this summer may include a combination of on-line classes and in-person sessions.