2020 modified GJCF spotlights 4-H/FFA youth

The 2020 GJCF will look a lot different next week. Scenes like this with kids on the rides will be non-existent. The only sense of normalcy will be 4-H and FFA youth and their families in and around the barns as the youth exhibit their livestock, animals and projects they worked so hard for. (Express file photo)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     The 2020 Great Jones County Fair will go down in history as the first modified fair in its 168 years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic

     Many events throughout the state and country cancelled, noting this was the first time many had done so since World War II. Well, the GJCF never pulled the plug in WWII, let alone in WWI. In 1917, during WWI, the fair featured patriotically decorated grounds in red, white, and blue. According to the Monticello sesquicentennial history book, “a large Red Cross exhibit was prominent, while the fair in general seemed quieter with the gravity of world events.”

     The 1918 fair “reflected the pressure of the war on the home front. Patriotic observances were held and much emphasis was put on food conservation.”

     During WWII in 1942, the theme for that summer’s fair was “Food for Victory, as displayed on the Floral Hall. All of the buildings on the fairgrounds were decorated, again, in red, white, and blue, with the “V for Victory” motif. At previous fairs, automobiles were given away. That year, the fair board announced that the net profits would be donated to war-service organizations.

     “In spite of rationing, more than 20,000 people attended the fair, many of them remarking that ‘they’d been savings up special, for you just can’t miss the Jones County Fair.’”

     Now, in 2020, for many, the fairgrounds themselves will look much different. The modified fair will only spotlight the 4-H and FFA youth livestock shows and exhibits. The public will not be admitted onto the grounds during the time of the shows; only those with credentials.

     “It’s not that we don’t love the public’s support,” prefaced Jones County Extension Director Jennifer Fischer. “But we are really trying to be cautious ands safe, and not put people in a position where they could be exposed to something.”

     GJCF Manager John Harms said the decision to modify the fair, which was made and announced back in May, was a unanimous fair board decision. He said it was expected. However, many on the board still wanted to offer the youth of Jones County an opportunity to showcase their hard work.

     “There was a lot of support behind it,” acknowledged Fischer.

     Harms said doing away with the midway and concerts, there was plenty of room in and around the barns to allow for a normal fair experience for the 4-H/FFA youth and their families.

     The modification was also about economics, Harms explained. With one concert called off and others sure to follow, there was no way to pull off a full-fledged fair this summer safely for everyone involved.

     With the decision made to maintain the youth portion of the fair, more decisions followed, including extending the “Five Best Days of Summer” to nine days. The fair starts on July 18 with the Prime Steer Show, and ends on July 26 with the 4-H/FFA Horse Show.

     Harms and Fischer said with the amount of people expected throughout the week, showing livestock at various times, it made sense to spread everything out to dilute the numbers on the grounds.

     Fischer said families have already contacted them, hearing comments from both sides of the coin in terms of the pandemic.

     “People have a lot of opinions,” she said. “But we’re following the CDC, Public Health, and 4-H guidelines and restrictions. This is a very important opportunity, but it’s not at the sake of anybody’s health.”

     “It’s full speed ahead for now,” added Harms of having the plans in place.

     While facemasks cannot be mandated in and around the barns, they will be highly encouraged. Fischer said all 4-H and Extension staff and volunteers will be wearing proper PPE to be role models for others. There are also mitigation strategies in place each day to lessen the spread of the virus, including hand sanitizer and thorough cleaning following each show.

     “We’ll have stickers on the bleachers to space people out,” offered Harms, noting that some will choose not to follow such guidelines.

     Some of the barns, such as the small animal barn, will be off limits. Instead, those 4-H shows will be moved into larger facilities that provide better ventilation and room for people to spread out.

     Noting these “unprecedented” times, Fischer said their numbers really haven’t suffered in terms of youth participants.

     “They’re pretty consistent,” she said.

     Unlike previous years, animals will not be held overnight inside the barns. This year’s fair is more of a “show and go” event; families will arrive the morning of the judging with their trailers, park, unload livestock, exhibit, and leave after the show is done. Harms said it was all about adapting to the times, meeting the guidelines presented, and keeping everyone safe all at the same time.

     “We’ll only have one species (of animal) on the grounds at any given time,” explained Fischer.

     The actual judging portion of the shows may not change too much, other than encouraging social distancing between exhibitors and judges.

     “Our judges are encouraged to wear masks,” suggested Fischer.

     4-H Program Coordinator Devan Cress said they will also be limiting the number of exhibitors in the show ring, again, to encourage social distancing.

     “This was all done in everyone’s best interest,” said Harms. “That’s why it’s now a nine-day event.”

     To allow the public to virtually take part, Abby Jaeger with the Monticello Kirkwood center, has offered to live stream the livestock shows all week so people can watch them from the comfort of their own homes.

     The change, however, will come with the F.A.S.T. projects and exhibits. Typically, the youth meet one-on-one with the judges and verbally talk and present their projects. This year that all changes. The projects will be dropped off at the Berndes Center and Expo Hall and the youth will also include a detailed write-up of their project.

     “This is a opportunity for them to express themselves in written format,” offered Fischer.

     This format is very similar to how things are done at the Iowa State Fair, too, something most youth are familiar with.

     For the F.A.S.T. and Horticulture projects, Cress is working on creating a video of all of the submissions to share with the public. There will also be virtual 4-H/FFA club booths, again via video, for people to enjoy as well. The Clothing and Fashion exhibits will be showcased virtually, as will Communications.

     For the Swine and Sheep/Goat shows, the derby classes were eliminated because there was no opportunity for weigh-ins back in March and April due to the start of the pandemic.

     Once the livestock shows are over for the day and the 4-H families have left the grounds, the public will be allowed into the gate/city park. Harms shared that there will be a couple of food vendors located near the barns, open for those who wish to enjoy a morsel of fair food.

     “We encourage people to come through at night and patronize those vendors,” he said. “It’ll be a free and open gate, but no activity on the midway.”

     This year’s modified fair all comes down to the safety and health of the youth and their families.

     “The goal is to have a successful experience for the kids and to be safe about it,” added Harms. “What we’re doing was met with overwhelming support, more than we expected it to be.”


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