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Serving: IN
4-H Livestock show Tom J. Bechman
WILL THEY HAPPEN? Whether 4-H livestock shows happen this summer, and in what form, may boil down to county-by-county decisions.

How do you make virtual memories last?

Virtual activities have their place, but so do face-to-face experiences.

When 2020 finally ends, don’t say, “Man, I’m glad this year is over.” That was the mantra of many after a challenging 2019. Cliché or not, it deserves saying: Be careful what you wish for.

For many, 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have already proved more stressful than planting delays in 2019. The impacts in 2020 go far beyond farm fields, affecting education, youth activities and life in rural Indiana.

We could spend this entire column debating whether the shutdown was necessary and still not arrive at a conclusion. So, we won’t. Instead, I’ll offer a few observations:

Death of common sense. Many people thought things were crazy when we were under lockdown. The real craziness began when things loosened up. That’s when common sense flew out the window. Some stores require masks just to enter while others don’t care. Some stores won’t let anyone under 16 enter, even though that’s the least-affected age group so far.

Inconsistency everywhere. Perhaps nowhere were the inconsistencies more evident than with public education. Some schools let teachers enter buildings for a couple of hours in late May to get supplies, some for whole days and some not at all. Some school systems allowed FFA and ag groups to plant farm plots and even gardens, while others said no — no one on the property! One person on a tractor is not OK? Really? Where were the people who were supposed to provide clear-cut, specific guidelines everyone could interpret?

To have a fair … or not. Purdue University didn’t allow Extension staff to assist with live 4-H activities for June fairs. Perhaps that made sense. That call had to be made early. Then people rallied when Purdue Extension announced July fairs could open — until they saw the restrictions local staff, 4-H members and participants must follow. The reality of kids wearing masks in a stuffy show ring when it’s 90 degrees F raised red flags. Some counties opted out right away, either canceling or going virtual. Some will persevere and attempt to put on some semblance of a fair.

Tension increases. No doubt the situation is different in every community, but in many cases, Extension educators have been at odds with 4-H families and fair boards, due to circumstances beyond their control. If there is any leeway, perhaps it is in exactly when 4-H’ers do or do not have to wear masks.

Who are the losers in all this? We all are, unless we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and salvage what we can of the lousy hand dealt to everyone this year. The community loses if a gap develops between the community and Extension staff. Kids lose, even if they show animals, if they don’t get the true experience of a fair — working with their friends, doing things outside the ring. That’s how young people have grown into adults in Indiana for decades — by face-to-face encounters, not by hovering over an electronic device.  

The lemons on the tree are sour this year. Whether we end up with lemonade may vary from community to community, from person to person. It’s going to take a lot of sugar, in the form of understanding and good, old-fashioned common sense, to get us through this summer.

Remembering that 4-H is about developing young people who understand honesty and integrity is a good place to start. If what you’re doing doesn’t fit that guideline, maybe you need to rethink what you’re doing.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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