2020 Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H, and Fairs FAQ

2020 Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H, and Fairs FAQ


The University of Wisconsin – Madison Division of Extension has long been a partner with the county fair. County fairs have consistently been a venue for educators to deliver programming related to youth development, community development, agriculture, and family development. Extension and the Wisconsin Association of Fairs (WAF) have been working closely over the past year and a half to accentuate the educational opportunities at county fairs.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UW-Madison and Extension have made some decisions regarding in-person programming.  For July, UW-Madison and Extension has developed a safety protocol that allows for “small group” 4-H programming. This will apply to groups of 10 or fewer initially, and will increase if health guidance permits.  Please note that guidance will depend on organizational readiness AND public health guidelines. 

Some key points:

4-H members are free to participate individually in fair proceedings and events. We’ve let our club members know that participation is an individual, family decision. Our policies preclude official club, Extension and 4-H volunteer, and staff activities during large events, but static displays can be set up before an event and youth may participate in other activities that fit in our guidelines. Families can allow youth participation as individuals and adults can support as fair volunteers.

Youth will get credit for their project exhibits at fairs. They can register their projects as 4-H members, and that contribution counts not only toward their accomplishments but also the fair’s commitments to youth organizations. Fairs can receive state aid for serving members of youth clubs such as 4-H, and our policies allow participation to facilitate that aid. Youth who do not participate in fairs will also have their accomplishments acknowledged.

The 4-H logo can be displayed at fairs. Many fairs have existing relationships to use the 4-H logo on buildings and materials; those agreements continue. Additionally, youth attending as individuals can wear their 4-H T-shirts and display the logo on their projects.

Extension is actively working on alternative events and structures for fair presentations. Our staff has been creative in helping to recognize 4-H members’ educational projects in and around fairs that are operating or holding alternative programs where fairs have been cancelled. For example, Extension staff has organized by-appointment animal weigh-ins, virtual livestock auctions, and partnered closely with fairs on “junior fair” activities that focus on health and safety of participants. Our staff is also working with clubs for alternative celebrations for group acknowledgments.

With these recent announcements, we have been asked questions about what this means for 4-H member participation and Extension staff involvement at county fairs. While the situation may continue to evolve with time, here is our current response to some frequently asked questions:

Fair Boards

1 – Who makes the decision on cancelling county fairs?

In most cases, the decision to hold or cancel an individual county fair is at the discretion of the local fair board or other local authorizing entity. The University of Wisconsin – Madison Division of Extension and the Wisconsin 4-H program do not make these decisions.

2  – Can a local county fair board use the 4-H Name and Emblem to promote fair activities?

As in past practice, all fair boards can continue to use the 4-H Name and Emblem as they have done in previous fairs based on written memoranda of understanding in place.  While the 4-H emblem may remain in pre-established contexts that would be difficult to remove such as signage and pre-printed materials, where possible the 4-H name and emblem should NOT be used to imply sponsorship (e.g. changing the name of the 4-H Livestock Show to the Youth Livestock Show).

Any new uses of the 4-H Name and Emblem should secure permission from the local Extension Office in consultation with Extension leadership.

4-H Involvement (4-H Members, Volunteers, Extension Staff)

3 – Can a 4-H member participate as an exhibitor at a local county fair or the Wisconsin State Fair with the current Extension programming cancellations?

Due to the health concerns, 4-H members are encouraged to avoid large gatherings of any kind and to attend only events that are following Extension guidelines, including distancing and face coverings. However, 4-H will not prevent young people from exhibiting individually.  Members choosing to participate on their own will not be covered by any 4-H insurance during their participation and 4-H assumes no responsibility should they become sick as a consequence of their participation.

4 – Are 4-H members covered by 4-H accident insurance if they show at the county fair?

Accident insurance for 4-H members is not required but strongly recommended.  Each county 4-H program that carries member accident insurance should check with their provider to determine what types of programs and activities are covered. Note: The supplemental insurance company used by many Wisconsin 4-H programs, American Income Life, has said that if youth were at the fair when 4-H programming is not happening at the fair, the insurance taken to cover 4-H activities is NOT in force.

5 – If the county fair is cancelled, can a youth’s enrollment in 4-H be extended if they aged out of the program in order to exhibit the following year?

No. 4-H membership is open to all youth through one year beyond high school graduation and not to extend beyond the age of 19 as of December 31 of the enrollment year. That said, requirements for Fairs are set by Fairs and some Fairs have indicated that they will permit first year 4-H Alumni to exhibit next year.

6 – Can Extension Staff and 4-H Volunteers assist with county fair preparations outside of the fair itself?

Extension staff and volunteers are able to support youth and others preparing for educational activities, including the fair, working via distance and with small groups in July.  This timeline may change with future Extension programming decisions.

7 – Can 4-H Volunteers help in person at a county fair if Extension has cancelled programs and activities?

Due to the health concerns, 4-H volunteers are encouraged to avoid large gatherings of any kind and to attend only events that are following Extension guidelines, including distancing and face coverings. However, 4-H will not prevent people from volunteering individually.  Volunteers choosing to participate on their own will not be covered by 4-H liability insurance during their participation and 4-H assumes no responsibility should they become sick as a consequence of their participation.

8 – Can Extension employees attend fairs?

Extension personnel will NOT be able to take part in person in any fair, or other event, that does not align with the appropriate return-to-work phase. There is an approval process to determine what is allowable following Extension’s guidelines.

If an Extension employee takes vacation to attend the fair, it needs to be clear to the employee, the fair, and all others involved that the employee is there as a private individual and not in their official Extension role to work at the fair.

9 – Can 4-H resources be used to support fairs?

4-H clubs and groups may continue to support fair operations (continuing past practice in support of providing educational activities.) 4-H may

  • loan equipment to the fair, such as tractors, benches, etc.
  • purchase additional ribbons, trophies, plaques for youth awards
  • supplement funds to hire a more experienced judge

4-H staff and volunteers may provide material support prior to the fair to help the fair or another non-profit take over an auction, food stand or other program/activities previously led by chartered 4-H clubs or 4-H groups that are not participating at the fair.

10 – Can Extension Staff and 4-H Volunteers promote a county fair even if 4-H programs and activities are cancelled during the same period?

Extension Staff and 4-H Volunteers can share information about fair activities with our audiences via newsletters, websites, etc.  Please note that at no point should the 4-H Name and Emblem be used to promote non-4-H programs or activities unless authorization is granted by Extension leadership (see above note regarding fair board use of the 4-H Name and Emblem).

11 – 4-H Programs or Activities held during County Fairs

Programming led by Extension staff and volunteers serving in their capacities as Extension youth program leaders must follow guidance that applies at the time, meaning cancellation in June and planning for following safety guidance, including limitations on group size, for July. Activities  held during a county fair typically will not meet the Extension requirements, given that fairs are large gatherings. These activities include, but are not limited to, 4-H Food Stands and 4-H Led Activity Stations. Activities associated with the fair, for example those held when the fair is closed to the public, and that can meet the required precautions may be considered.

12 – Livestock Exhibiting and Auctions

Chartered 4-H livestock groups must follow 4-H program guidance in application at that time, including potentially cancelling in-person activities. As with other fair activities, alternative arrangements are being examined and led by fairs to be prepared for different circumstances.

4-H and county fair boards should continue to align with federal and state regulations related to exhibiting animals and corresponding project auctions that are either in person or on a virtual platform.  More guidance will be provided in the coming weeks related to these activities; in person or virtually.

There are many available options related to online learning that youth can gain educational points/credits in order to exhibit at fairs.  A verification form can provide youth the ability to reflect on the experience and move their project forward.  Virtual Farm Tours and the youth livestock COVID-19 page provide many learning opportunities.

Guidance for Virtual Fair Shows and Auctions: https://bit.ly/virtualfairanimals

Marketing Your Livestock Project: A Guide for Youth & Families https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/youthlivestock/resources/


13 – Who decides if all required educational hours/credits must be met prior to exhibiting at the fair?

4-H Requirements to represent 4-H at the local fair:

This is a local decision, please contact your county Extension 4-H Program Educator for more information.  The 4-H Program Educator will coordinate with the Fair Board to ensure information is provided timely. Continue to look to the University of Wisconsin – Madison Division of Extension for virtual learning opportunities that may count towards the required educational hours as approved locally.

Fair Requirements to show at the fair:

This is a local fair decision, please contact your county fair board to ensure information is provided timely. In many cases, Extension staff may be in a position to educationally assist Fair Boards in finding or adapting resources to meet their requirements (ie. Virtual Horse Clinics, Livestock Educational Points, etc.)

14 – If the county fair is cancelled in your area, can you exhibit at another county fair that has not been cancelled?

Showing at another county fair needs to be approved by that county’s local fair board or authorizing entity.  Families will need to work with their local 4-H Program Educator for guidance and also the local fair officials.

Communication Timeline

We are following state and University guidelines as they are announced and our programming guidance will be updated within 48 hours of any change in guidance.