Michigan 4-H rolls out virtual showcase and auctions

Michigan State University Extension rolls out Virtual Learning Showcase and Auctions, an online experience that allows 4-H members to show off their summer project work, including an opportunity to exhibit and market livestock.

4-H'er with his livestock project at home.

As Michiganders began to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan State University Extension quickly created a plethora of opportunities for 4-H youth to stick together while physically being apart. A recent addition is the Virtual Learning Showcase and Auctions, an online experience that allows 4-H members to show off their summer project work, including an opportunity to exhibit and market livestock.

The program comes on the heels of the decision to modify, postpone or cancel all in-person 4-H activities in Michigan through Sept. 1—a time period that includes many fairs and exhibitions throughout the state.

“That was one of the most heartbreaking decisions we have ever had to make,” said Jeff Dwyer, MSU Extension director. “However, MSU Extension is dedicated to helping 4-H’ers, volunteers and their families continue to learn and grow through innovative online experiences that prepare 4-H’ers to be problem solvers and leaders.”

Lisa Reiff, executive director of the Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, believes that many fairs that choose to cancel their in-person events will look to the virtual showcase as an opportunity to keep young people active and engaged throughout the summer months.

“Fairs are thinking outside the box during this difficult time,” she explained. “It is our understanding that counties will have an opportunity to use a centralized system to standardize virtual events while having the flexibility to continue local 4-H traditions.”

Jake DeDecker, state 4-H program leader, said that each county will have an opportunity to use FairEntry, a project management system that can help organize project areas and events, including livestock auctions, for a virtual exhibition. MSU Extension professionals will help manage the system, and cover the system fees.

“I’m a former 4-H’er and fair kid myself so it’s important to me that no one is left out of this opportunity,” said Jake DeDecker, Michigan 4-H State Program leader. “I love the excitement and camaraderie of a local fair, and though we can’t completely recreate that feeling virtually, I look forward to working with our staff, the Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions and local fair boards to ensure that all young people can exhibit their projects and be acknowledged for their accomplishments while keeping everyone safe.”

Dwyer believes the move to an online platform may actually expand the ability of buyers to attend livestock auctions, which have typically been limited to those in the local community.

“We can help 4-H’ers expand their audiences throughout the state, and even to friends and relatives across the country,” he said. “We are also working closely with the Michigan Association of Food Banks to ensure those who want to support 4-H youth, but perhaps don’t have the room or desire to take possession of that much meat, may be able to donate it to a local food bank.”

Information about the MSU Extension Virtual Learning Showcase and Auction is available at extension.msu.edu/virtualshowcase. The site will be enhanced as new opportunities are created. Fair managers and others interested in offering a virtual learning showcase can send an email to 4Hshowcase@msue.msu.edu for more information.

Did you find this article useful?