Orleans County 4-H Fair cancelled for 2020

Photos by Tom Rivers: Kids have fun on one of the Midway rides in this photo from July 30, 2016. About 25,000 to 30,000 people attend the fair.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 28 May 2020 at 9:03 pm

KNOWLESVILLE – It is with a lot of sad hearts the Orleans County 4-H Fair Board, chaired by Zack Welker, announced tonight its decision to cancel the 2020 Orleans County 4-H Fair, citing health and safety as the primary reasons in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The fair was scheduled for July 26 to 31. The event usually draws about 25,000 to 30,000 people.

“As a former 4-Her I understand the impact this will have on our county’s youth, and we are working very hard to put alternatives in place to help them stay plugged in and help them with their fair projects,” Welker said. “Although difficult, we feel this is the most responsible decision to make in keeping both those involved in the fair and the public safe and comfortable. We are here to answer any questions and look forward to helping our youth and looking ahead to the 2021 fair.”

Robert Batt, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension for the last five years, has been involved in 4-H since he was 8 years old as a 4-H member.

“Never in our wildest dreams did any of us think the day would come when we would have to cancel the fair,” Batt said. “This would have been the 73rd year of the fair.”

Fair manager Marty Zwifka echoed Batts disappointment, as they reminisced about previous fair experiences.

“We won’t be sleeping in the llama trailer this year,” Zwifka said.

“I’m already saddened about not eating fair cheeseburgers for two years,” Batt said. “It’s the little things like that clicking through my mind, which made the fair so meaningful. It’s all the little pieces which made the experience so unique.”

Batt said the board shed a lot of tears, as have the volunteers and vendors who were active at the fair.

“Our fair board did everything in our power to try and have this fair,” Zwifka said. “Our volunteers have worked countless hours trying to find a solution, and I haven’t slept in two nights.”

Sun streams into the cattle barn in this photo from July 30, 2016.

Batt said they have been talking about the fair for two months and had many meetings.

“We’ve been through a lot of emotions, because the fair means many things for all of us,” he said. “We moved the entry deadline, but finally realized we couldn’t wait any longer.”

Ultimately, they all felt canceling was the best decision.

Batt said that doesn’t mean there won’t be any 4-H activities. He said the fair was always a way to showcase projects of 4-H youth, bring the community together and support agriculture. They are hoping to be able to have some event or events, such as a virtual livestock auction.

“A virtual auction may be better than a live one, because we can reach new people.” Batt said. “At the fair, people have a few hours to attend the auction, where with a virtual one they will have an entire week.”

They are also looking at ways for livestock youth and consumer sciences clubs to show off their projects.

Batt said they may also try and have a drive-through version of the fair’s famous chicken barbecue, pending approval from the Health Department.

Batt and Zwifka said they can understand how they would have felt as kids if the fair were canceled.

“It’s the coolest thing when teens joke about what they used to do and how they would run the fair,” Batt said.

As many as 500 youth are involved in 4-H at Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension. Some clubs have been able to meet online, such as the dog and horse programs, Batt said.

“I have had Senior Council meetings online every week because I wanted the kids to stay connected,” he said.

Batt said a study was done several years ago determining the impact of local fairs on their county, and it was significant, although he said revenue from the Orleans County 4-H Fair all went into programming and projects for the next year’s fair. He said it would, however, be a big loss to their vendors, many of whom will lose their entire season this year.

Like everyone, Batt said they will have wait for another year to gather around the giant apple pie tin, eat something unhealthy and deep fried, show kids how cows are milked and just be together.

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