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Amid pandemic, 4-H shows, auctions, lessons go virtual

Courtesy Photo Trinity Orban, a member of Alpena County’s 4-H program, is pictured with the duck she is raising as part of the program.

ALPENA — Northeast Michigan 4-H programs continue for area youth, although many are transitioning to an online format.

In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, for example, Michigan State University Extension officials asked all staff and volunteers not to participate in face-to-face programming through Sept. 1.

However, MSU Extension staff, who oversee 4-H programs locally, still wanted youth to have a 4-H experience.

Michelle Eagling, Alpena County 4-H coordinator, said in an email to The News that “4-H youth continue to be engaged in Alpena’s livestock club, which has been meeting once a month online for various educational pieces on animal projects.”

Eagling noted 55 kids recently participated in an online livestock meeting and livestock quiz bowl.

She said Alpena 4-H offers an online showmanship clinic this month, open to all youth ages 5 to 19.

Kids in Alpena and Alcona counties continue to raise animals for show or for the 4-H program’s highly anticipated auction, but, because many county fairs were canceled this year, the format has changed.

Alpena County 4-H members can participate in a virtual showcase and auction planned for Aug. 24 and 25.

Alcona County officials still plan to have an auction for kids who haven’t already sold their livestock, Jenny Sweet, advisor of the Alcona Junior Livestock Club, said.

Sweet said one steer out of 11 raised by her club members has not yet been sold and could go to auction.

Sweet said the details of the Alcona County auction are still being worked out.

Presque Isle County doesn’t have a live auction, but 4-H youth can show animals in the programs in Alpena, Montmorency, or Cheboygan counties, according to Kaelie Fessler, Presque Isle County 4-H coordinator.

Information about Montmorency County’s showmanship or auction plans was not immediately available.

In the meantime, Eagling, of MSU Extension, said kids have registered animals and sent in verification pictures of all species to be sold in the live auction, which is in lieu of the spring weigh-in usually conducted face-to-face.

Dione Oliver, leader of the Helping Hands 4-H Club, said the club has been unable to hold meetings via videoconferencing software, but she has been in touch with her members by phone. While an element of socialization is missing, Oliver said, she is still available to help with projects.

“I’m still supporting and helping and guiding them,” she said.

While many aspects of showing or selling livestock have become virtual, Oliver said, 4-H members still have the opportunity to be judged on their showmanship online and details for the livestock auction are still being worked out.

MSU Extension staff also continue to offer educational programming for 4-H club members.

Fessler, with Presque Isle County’s 4-H program, is in the middle of teaching an interactive program about monarch butterflies.

Alcona County 4-H Coordinator Les Thomas said his team originally planned to give 4-H youth an online summer camp experience related to gardening, but instead put camp materials in a box to send home with parents.

Thomas said parents of 4-H youth told officials the online camp idea wasn’t convenient or that their kids were tired of sitting in front of the computer learning.

“We’re now selling a 4-H camp in a box and, basically, it includes all the materials and projects that we were going to do, including instructions, but also curriculum that extends their learning,” he said.

Once staff created the box, Thomas said, the program saw enrollment increase. The kit costs $10 for 4-H youth in Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties, and includes instructions and materials for activities such as building a birdhouse or growing an herb garden.

A second summer camp, focusing on outdoor education, through which youth will build outdoor survival kits and learn how to build an emergency shelter, is planned for later this summer.

“This is definitely the format that folks are looking for in this social-distancing summer camp season,” he said.

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