Now that the state has given a green light for modified county fairs, Margaret Zallar, 9, of Bainbridge will get her chance to compete in her very first fair during the 198th Great Geauga County Fair.

Measures to control the spread of COVID-19 included closing school buildings and businesses as well as limiting large public gatherings. But now the state is opening up.

“I wanted to do some stuff for it because I was looking forward to doing my first judging,” Margaret said. “I was kind of scared, but I was also looking forward to it.”

Junior fairs were the initial focus of Gov. Mike DeWine’s opening plan.

Margaret , a third-year member of the Clover Bud 4-H club, will debut her projects this fall during the fair over Labor Day weekend.

She is busy at work now hand-sewing a high-low skirt and raising a group of meat chickens. She, however, is eager to work with the animals.

“Junior fairs are a way for kids to show off the work they’ve done during the year through their individual organization,” said Jan Jackam, coordinator of Geauga County’s junior fairs. “The junior fair is made up of, in our county, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H. Typically, they’re the same. Except in Geauga we have GHPA, the Geauga Horse and Pony Association. We also have the Farm Bureau Youth and the FFA, the Future Farmers of America.”

That’s why Mrs. Jackam said it was concerning when the fate of this year’s fair was in limbo.

“At this stage in the game, we are planning for worst case scenario as far as social distancing and keeping everybody safe, however I don’t know that that won’t change in two months,” she said.

Geauga Junior Fair Board President Kaysie Healy, 18, who graduated from Berkshire High School in May, echoed Mrs. Jackam’s words about not having enough information.

Ms. Healy said her board is running behind because of COVID-19. “Normally at our June meeting, we would have planted flowers in front of our junior fair board building, which has a bunch of booths,”she said. “Normally we would have already had ribbons counted, new ones placed for the order. We actually have not had to meet in person for anything so far.”

Individual 4-H clubs are feeling the same strain. Margaret and her sister, Rebecca, 13, haven’t started their projects yet because of delays and disconnects in meetings.

Rebecca is also working on a textiles project in addition to raising meat chickens. She was planning to make T-shirts as well, but has not been able to learn through hands-on instruction like she normally would with 4-H.

“So that’s probably the biggest effect on us,” said Danielle Zallar, Margaret and Rebecca’s mother. “Since we’re not meeting with our club, we don’t have that hands-on guidance. So the clothing aspect, the textiles, with garment making, it’s things like that where you’re trying to communicate.”

Mrs. Zallar said her daughters’ club leader Julia Wood has done a commendable job of transitioning her traditional educational programming to a Zoom meeting format, so that youths can still learn and participate at home.

Ms. Healy, who served as vice president of her board last year, said she feels the same about her group’s response. “It’s definitely a transition,” she said. “I think it’s easier for us to transition just because we know how to use the technology and not necessarily all the older people do.” She said she was able to help when Mrs. Jackam reached out, looking for help in setting up Zoom meetings.

This is Rebecca’s seventh year completing a project with 4-H, having won a blue ribbon at an Ohio State Fair. She was planning to redo a whole year of the club if the 2020 fair was canceled. Having completed it with several quilts and meat animals in the past, Rebecca says this year’s process will look a bit different for participants.

Rebecca said that working with textiles, as opposed to raising meat animals or completing miscellaneous category projects like raising produce, has a more intensive judging process. Rebecca also said she believes that judging will be a bit easier this year because it’s going to take place online. Participants will pre-record a video in which they present their projects and show it off, in lieu of the judging and style show that the club normally holds during the fair.

“Now with COVID-19 they changed all the goals and everything, but you’d have to complete your project book and project judging,” Rebecca explained. “I feel like some people aren’t going to complete their outfit that they’re making and the judges are going to have to be easy. They can’t just look down and flip your seam up, they just look at it.”

She also said that this prospect is exciting because it will give her hands-on experience in pre-recording videos, something neither her nor Margaret have done in the past. And that’s kind of perfect, because Mrs. Jackam said teaching children how to do new things is what 4-H is all about.

“It teaches kids responsibility, it teaches them how to work as a team,” she said. “It provides an opportunity to meet other youths from around the country, not just their neighbors or school district, and it provides a lot of fun from learning those things and getting them accomplished.

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