4-H is more than a fair

Fairs are getting canceled, but that doesn't negate the work put in by 4-H members.

Reanna Schlecht sews a pillow, one of several possible 4-H projects that won't make it to the fair in 2020. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

On May 11, the official word came: The North Dakota State Fair and our local Stutsman County, N.D., Fair had been canceled.

I think everyone anticipated it. School moved online. Sports were canceled. Concerts were postponed. Fairs would be just one more casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. Even those that haven’t been canceled by this point are still up in the air.

My older daughter is in her last year as a 4-H Cloverbud, the program for kids who aren’t old enough to be regular 4-H members. In these three years, she has learned new skills, put together projects and displayed them proudly in her club’s booth at the fair. She’s made new friendships and strengthened existing ones. It’s been a great experience, and she has been keen on preparing for next year when she’s a full member.

Since school moved online, Reanna has had time to work on a number of possible 4-H projects. She worked on communication arts projects. She learned to sew on my sewing machine, a footstool beneath her to prop up the foot pedal. She’s cooked simple meals for herself and her sister. She’s made crafts and studied new things. She planned to find someone to let her show a lamb in the Cloverbud lamb showmanship class at the county fair. She visited the calf of her heifer — the first calf she ever showed — seeing for herself the fruits of her labor.

Though the fair is off, it sounds like the county may still find ways to hold smaller, less centralized contests and events. It won’t be the same, but it may be a place for the kids to show what they’ve been doing.


But even if that doesn’t come to fruition, my hope is that all of the kids who have prepared and worked toward the fair realize that their work wasn’t for naught. Maybe Reanna won’t enter one of the pillows she’s sewn in the fair. But she knows how to sew now, and she sleeps on one of the pillows she made every night.

My heart goes out to those teenagers in their last year in 4-H. They’ve seen their senior year upended, their proms canceled, their graduations postponed. Their last year at the fair is one more waypost they probably won’t pass. I can’t pretend to know what they’re going through, but I do know that it won’t negate all the work they’ve done in the years passed.

I was a 10-year 4-H member. I learned to sew in 4-H and to do leatherwork and to show animals and a lot of other technical skills.

But I learned so much more.

I learned to finish something I started and to have it ready for the public to see it. I learned how to win and how to lose. I learned to lead meetings. I learned to keep records and to take minutes and the importance of doing so. I learned I can have an impact in my community. I learned to speak in front of groups both small and large; even now, when I’m preparing for an on-camera appearance, I find myself pacing, hands behind my back in the same way I’d prepare to give reasons at 4-H livestock judging contests.

4-H isn’t just the fair. 4-H is all the things you learn, all the people you meet, all the good you realize you can do around you. To the kids out there facing disappointment at the loss of one more thing in 2020, remember all the things you’ve gained. No pandemic can take that away. Moving on from this will be one more lesson you’ve learned.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's content manager. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at or 701-595-0425.

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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