PRESTON, Minn. — The Fillmore County Ag Society made the call last week to join the many other counties across the state by canceling its county fair.

Samantha Payne, 4-H youth development coordinator for Fillmore County, said they followed the lead of other programs in the state by telling kids to keep working on projects, ID their animals and continue working with them too.

She said in partnership with the fair board, they plan to "find a way to celebrate 4-H efforts and ensure a pathway to state events" for the 344 active youth in Fillmore County 4-H.

"We are exploring alternative showcase ideas, and right now we exploring both in-person and virtual options," said Payne on June 9.

She said the ability to host in-person showcases is dependent on regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Tim Walz and the University of Minnesota.

Payne said she thinks there's a good chance kids will be able to show their animals, but it won't be open to the public and the amount of people will be in accordance to spacing and sanitation guidelines.

"But the kids would still get to be there with their parents," said Payne.

She said that showing animals is the only thing that some kids participate in through 4-H, just like some kids only attend camps.

"It's wherever kids find they want to do, learn about and explore," she said.

Camps in a box

Summer is when 4-H camps usually take place. Payne said that June camps for Cloverbuds have been adjusted for kids to do on their own or with their families. The "Camps in a Box" include a variety of activities to be done at kids' own pace, and are sent to the homes of those who register.

Payne said she's not including any online aspects in the boxes going out to Fillmore County 4-H campers, which are in kindergarten through second grades.

"Trying to get those kids offline and doing things outside or with their family, versus logging on to a Zoom meeting," said Payne of the Fillmore County kits. "As we know, that's not necessarily the prime age for that."

Eight county 4-H programs were scheduled to attend this year's regional camp at Whitewater State Park in Winona. Payne said it's a gathering that many kids look forward to all year, and has them put down their screens (there's little to no service at the park) and connect with each other in person.

The regional camp is moving to an at-home experience, with the box for participants including: an agronomy greenhouse kit, hiking activity guide, campfire cooking recipe book, owl pellet dissection kit and friendship bracelet kit.

But Payne said regional camp participants will still have the chance to interact with each other, and the camp will have elements of the in-person version.

"A big part of the camp is having their cabin groups, in which they get to know counselors and other campers more closely," said Payne.

Cabin groups will still be assigned for the at-home camp, for kids to get to know each other better or share experiences about certain activities via Flipgrid.

"So there will be a little bit of a virtual element if they choose, but still the big emphasis on getting outside," she said.

Virtually exploring the outdoors

At the state level, the University of Minnesota Extension is offering weekly events on a variety of topics to keep 4-H members exploring and learning while at home.

"The youth planning team brainstormed ideas on what families around Minnesota would like to see in a virtual and at-home outdoor adventure learning program," said Norman County 4-Her Lia Nelson.

What was decided on will be presented in weekly webinars of the 4-H Outdoor Adventure series. The first event took place on June 8.

Nicole Pokorney, state coordinator for Minnesota 4-H, introduced the first guest speaker of the series, which started with the topic of hiking.

Annie Nelson is a former journalist and hiking advocate, who writes about her outdoor adventures on the site Wild Stories about the Great Outdoors.

She told the 4-Hers during the event that she read every adventure story she could get her hands on growing up, and part of her just wanted to go on "some amazing, magical adventure in my life".

"I'm here to tell you that I finally found it, in thru-hiking," said Nelson.

Nelson, who's completed a five-month, 1,500-mile backpacking adventure on the North Country Trail, shared stories from her hikes and the animals and views she saw.

Thru-hiking is a form of backpacking where you travel on end-to-end trails. Nelson said when people go backpacking, they usually hike between eight to 15 miles a day, but can go up to 20 to 30 miles a day.

"I think the main reason why people graduate from camping to backpacking is they really want to get deeper into the forest," she said. "When you go backpacking, the entire forest is your campground."

For upcoming webinar details, visit here.