Twelve-year-old Cayla Vimmerstedt has been raising Stitch for eight months. Every day, she feeds the steer, then washes, rinses, walks, brushes and blows him dry. The process takes a couple of hours.
Vimmerstedt had planned to show Stitch at the Pima County Fair this month, but then the event was canceled due to COVID-19.
"I feel very sad and I don't like staying at home, but we are keeping others safe by not going out," said Vimmerstedt, who, like her sister and two brothers, is raising an animal as a participant in 4-H. "This was my last year at my school, and I won't get to see my friends or teachers again this year. I'm very disappointed the fair was canceled this year, but I want to keep people safe."
However, Vimmerstedt will still get a chance to show Stitch – in a virtual setting.
Youth in 4-H work year-round on projects, such as raising animals, artwork, photography, sewing, baking and robotics. County fairs typically offer a chance for them to come together and show their work.
With this year's in-person fairs canceled, 4-H agents, volunteers and UArizona Cooperative Extension employees across Arizona have come together to offer 4-H participants the opportunity to show off their projects virtually and participate in other virtual learning experiences.
"We did a virtual county fair (in Yuma County), where we asked every 4-H member to submit a photo of all of the projects they were planning on taking to the fair," said Yuma County 4-H agent Amy Parrott. "Most of them had already done all of the work for the projects, and while the video doesn't replace the fair, it still gives everyone the opportunity to showcase what they worked so hard on all year."
In Pima County, 4-H agent Joshua Moore worked with volunteers and the Pima County Junior Livestock Sales group to set up online stock auctions through a third party. A small stock auction is slated for April 20-25 and a large stock auction is scheduled for April 25-May 2. Online auctions through a third party were already successful in Pinal County at the end of March, and Yavapai and Maricopa Counties have similar auctions planned for the end of April.
"I'm very grateful for the 4-H agents working on the online auction, because they are working so hard to see us succeed," said Vimmerstedt, a sixth grader at Agua Caliente Elementary School. "They are not doing it for themselves; they're doing it for the kids."
Parrott said county fairs are an important part of the 4-H experience, especially in rural areas.
"For rural communities, the county fair is so much more than a carnival and fried foods. Every single one of our school districts has spring break the same week, and so many businesses are involved in the county fair," Parrott said. "Many of our volunteers take the entire week of fair off of work as 'vacation.' All of the food booths at the fair, including the 4-H booth are run by local nonprofits or service organizations that use the proceeds from their booth to provide scholarships for local kids or to give back to the community."
The 4-H program is implemented across the country by land-grant colleges and universities, through the Cooperative Extension program. UArizona Cooperative Extension works with thousands of young people, volunteers, agents and clubs across the state.
Moore said that "4-H is often referred to as a young person's first class at the University of Arizona."
"Throughout our 107-year existence in Arizona, we've grown generations of Wildcats who found their spark for higher education by raising a pig or riding a horse, or doing other projects as a 4-H Club member," he said.
"The Cooperative Extension and 4-H mission is really to use the applied research and education we have to help our kids and families do better in the projects in which they are involved while enriching their lives," Parrott said. "We continue to do that – even in this challenging time."