MOUNDSVILLE – Many Marshall County 4-H students were “beyond disappointed” earlier this week when the county fair was abruptly canceled, leaving the kids without a venue to show off and sell their farm animals that some had been raising since October.
“These kids, they really truly are the hardest workers that I know,” said Lisa Ingram, the 4-H agent for WVU Marshall County Extension Services. “My heart absolutely breaks to tell them that they’re not going to be able to realize the fruits of their labor. The fair, for them, is almost a vacation.”
The fair was scheduled to begin this weekend and run through Saturday, July 25. But Gov. Jim Justice’s order Monday limited the sizes of gatherings and canceled all county fairs in West Virginia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ending the Marshall County Fair before it could even begin.
But out of that disappointment came an opportunity to learn from the experience and try a new way to market their animals outside of the show ring, Ingram said. Now, the students are using Facebook to promote their rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs and cows, and will even sell some of them during an online auction Friday night.
“The kids have been disappointed, but we pride ourselves on our kids being very resilient,” Ingram said. “They’re making something good out of something bad. It’s a learning curve and a life lesson that we never thought we would be teaching them. But 4-H is all about those teachable moments.”
Laura Shipman, a rising junior at John Marshall High School, has been in 4-H Club for eight years, and has raised market steers, hogs and goats. She was upset upon hearing the news, but then began working to find ways to auction off her market steer, Beetlejuice.
“I’m very much a planner,” she said. “When I didn’t have my plan go out as I wanted to, it was very upsetting to me because it felt like I didn’t do enough work. I didn’t get to do what I loved to do.”
Then she learned about the online auction that will be held at 6 p.m. Friday through Res Auction Services and can be found at www.res.bid. A private group not affiliated with WVU Extension of 4-H set up the online auction that will allow students to show sheep, swine and steer in the ring with only immediate family members in attendance. Everyone will be required to wear masks and physical distancing will be enforced.
“It means so much to sell and show my animals. I put a lot of work in to do these projects,” Laura said. “Having a show and being able to exhibit our animals. To have fun at the fair, without there being a fair.”
While she said the students will miss interacting with the buyers and being able to personally thank them, she expects the members to send letters thanking them instead. She also hopes this could be an additional option for future market sales to let people who can’t attend the fair to still participate in the auctions.
“This might be an option for more people to be able to bid on the animals, even if they don’t want to come to the fair,” Laura said.
But she’ll still miss visiting with old friends and feeling the festive atmosphere at the fair.
“It means being a part of a family and having a bigger family that involves working with animals and doing new things and getting out of your comfort zone to do other things,” she said.
That sense of family is what Shelby Ullom, a rising senior at John Marshall, who has raised goats and rabbits in the club, will miss the most about the fair.
“I’ll definitely miss my friends,” Shelby said. “I just miss stepping in the show ring and seeing everybody dressed up in their black and whites and ready to compete. But we’re still best friends and we’re still rooting for each other. I just miss the family part.”
She was planning to sell rabbits at this year’s fair, but they won’t be part of the online auction Friday. Instead, she began posting photos of her rabbits on Facebook this week and has received a groundswell of support from followers.
“It’s a curve we have to get over for marketing our animals this year because we’re on our own, but we have the help of everyone else,” Shelby said of her Facebook posts that are being shared by users. “Many people are happy and they want to help in some sort of way, them sharing it and getting it out to even more people than I could even think of. They just want to help us, even if they can’t buy them.”
That spirit has been uplifting for Ingram, who knows the amount of work the students put into feeding, brushing and cleaning their animals.
“I don’t have words to put into the amount of work put into these animals,” Ingram said. “They’re taking it and they’re making it a life lesson. They’re spinning it around and trying to market it in a way they typically don’t have to do.”
While the online auction and other private sales through Facebook will helps some of the students, other projects, such as cooking and photography, will have to wait until the situation involving the coronavirus improves in the Ohio Valley.
“There’s a lot of kids across the county that have kinda lost their summer fun,” Ingram said.
Until then, people interested in buying some of the 130 animals for sale during Friday’s auction are encouraged to go to www.res.bid to sign up and prepare to bid beginning at 6 p.m. Videos of the animals will be displaced on the website in the Marshall County section of the website.