In mid-March, when the first cases of COVID-19 began popping up in Nebraska, no one would have believed that it would turn into a pandemic and last into the fall.
Yet, that is exactly what happened, threatening everything from in-person classes in schools, to businesses being open to the public, to athletics and fairs. Even the Nebraska State Fair, held each year at the end of August and into early September in Grand Island, was heavily affected by the threat of COVID-19.
Public health officials, staff with Nebraska 4-H and FFA, and state fair personnel pulled resources together to make sure that, even during a pandemic, the state's youth would be able to exhibit and compete at the fair.
"There have been so many changes for youth and their families throughout the past six months," says Kathleen Lodl, associate dean of Nebraska Extension and head of 4-H youth development. "Young people and their families are seeking to get back into a routine, and the state fair allowed them to do that."
STATIC CHANGES: Instead of organizing static 4-H exhibits within each category, this year's Nebraska State Fair kept each county's entries together, such as this display from Cuming County, which offered a look at the best 4-H exhibits on a county-by-county basis in the Pinnacle Bank Expo Building.
It took plenty of planning, but the Nebraska State Fair went on Aug. 28 to Sept. 7, with 4-H competitions taking place during the first weekend of the fair, and FFA contests during the second weekend.
"It was great to be able to offer some consistency and something that was more normal," Lodl says. "We also had a large number of new exhibitors, so hopefully their 2020 experience will be the first of many state fairs to come."
Without a carnival on the grounds, and with much of the larger entertainment events canceled until next year, the fair relied on more local entertainment, food vendors and exhibits to fill the void.
"While some things were different than other years, the celebration of what youth have learned throughout the year and the work they have done was evident throughout the fair," Lodl says. "We have had amazing support from Nebraskans throughout the process, and we are so pleased that the state fair chose to focus on 4-H and FFA."
ENJOYING THE FAIR: Animal exhibits of all kinds, including ducks and other poultry, were at this year's Nebraska State Fair.
Lodl says that families have been flexible during planning as things changed in order to meet current health directives.
"While we had many versions of plans for each of our events, each plan offered new opportunities to explore doing things in new ways, some of which we will keep for the future," Lodl adds. "From having 4-H and FFA on separate weekends to holding shows in different spaces, there were new things to think about and processes to be built."
Lodl lauds the state fair staff through the planning, and she notes that the Nebraska Extension team worked hard to figure out the details. Learn more about the Nebraska State Fair online at statefair.org.