Students across the country watched event after event get canceled this year. For high school senior Samuel Hadacek, the disappointment surrounded an unhappy ending to his last year showing animals.
“It was definitely a disappointment, especially this being my last year,” says Hadacek, graduating high school senior in Augusta County, Va.
Despite the chaos and uncertainty with COVID-19, the largest market animal show east of the Mississippi, canceling wasn’t an option.
“This was going to be our 75th, and we wanted to do it up right,” says Shirley Kaufman, Ag Teacher and 4-H Livestock Judging Team Coach.
Kaufman is an ag teacher, but also the 4-H livestock judging coach in Augusta County, Va. She says the kids had too much invested in their animals just to call it quits.
“Everybody had their animals, and we're talking over 500 animals,” Kaufman says. “We had to do something to help the kids.”
“Kids nominated steers back in November, and they nominated lambs and pigs back in February,” explains Emmalee Edwards, 4-H Agent, Augusta County, Va., “so they'd already been working hard on their animals for months.”
Knowing the 4-H members had already dedicated numerous hours to caring for the animals, the group made a pivotal decision.
“It had to be very fast because I think that we were shut down at the end of March, and we show that end of April beginning of May,” Edwards says.
As the show was just weeks away, the team opted to move the show online.
“We were the first ones to do this,” Kaufman says. “We're the first guinea pigs to do this because our show would have been the first of May, and so it was a learning curve, but it was great.”
The Augusta County Market Animal Show sparked quite the turnout, despite the decision to go to a "Plan B."
“We had about 268 total,” Edwards says. “That's a little over half of what we usually have for the in-person show.”
Through creative videos, the judge was able to look at all the animals and not just judge the livestock but give reasons.
“We worked around the clock, putting those classes and reasons together so that we could get them out,” says Ashley Craun, 4-H program technician in Augusta County, Va. “I think it took us two or three days of working. We would work here, and then we would go home and work; it was a lot.”
A lot of work went into serving up videos that were as much like a live show as possible, but an effort the county Extension knows lays the foundation for valuable learning.
“It really opened this kid's eyes and they can really hear what the changes in the animal that the judges would like to see,” Craun says.
The work done by everyone helping with the Augusta County Market Animal Show didn’t stop there. In addition to the virtual show, the group also hosted a support sale.
“People could go in and, unlike a normal sale, they could support all the kids they wanted,” says Kaufman. “They only had to sit down one time and put whatever money they wanted into $25 increments.”
She says as the sale wrapped up, success didn’t just come in the money made.
“It was only for support, only we raised $120,000 with an average of $830 per kid above what their animals were going to bring,” Kaufman explains.
The impressive turnout proved no matter the obstacles, the community rallied together, showing unwavering support.
“When you have a normal sale, like in past years, there's the spirit of supporting the kid behind the animal, but in this case, you really didn't have the animal, and it was just supporting the kids,” Hadacek says. “The way I look at it and how successful that supports it was, that really shows how much the community is behind what we do and how we do it. I'm very thankful for that.”
Kaufman says support also came in students learning new ways to navigate during trying times.
“They had to sit down and write letters; they had to make personal phone calls; they had to reach out on email,” Kaufman says.
Those lessons come with sincere appreciation for students like Hadacek.
“In all reality, it was very enlightening for me,” he says. “I actually learned something new, which was really cool. And actually, that’s really one of the best parts about showing, in my opinion.”
The county Extension office says finding an avenue to still allow kids to show taught lessons that extend beyond the show ring.
“I think what we really wanted to kind of show the kids is that it's not always what you're thrown into, but it's how you respond to that,” Edwards says.
The entire show and sale ignited something bigger and fueled valuable lessons in life.
“After, I know one parent said to me ‘thank you for not quitting,’” Kaufman says. “I said, ‘we're not going to quit for these kids.’”
The work, the effort and the time may have been five times as much, but the focus was always on the kids.
#FarmOn Benefit Concert
That focus and support of 4-H students is just the start. Farm Journal announced it's partnering with 4-H for the #FarmOn benefit concert. Registration is free as some of country music's biggest stars, such as Lee Brice and Justin Moore, are rallying behind this effort, all to benefit 4-H. It's a way to say “thank you” to everyone in agriculture for their commitment to press forward during these challenging times.