Hailey McKenzie, 15, left, and sister Madilyn, 12, pose for a photo with their 4-H sheep on Wednesday, May 27, outside of Jefferson, at the farm of a family friend where they house their animals. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The Marion County Fair has gone virtual this year, allowing its 4-H and FFA competitors to sell their animals through a virtual auction and art contests to be judged online. 

Kids who spent months raising livestock for the annual fair had a shock last month when the fair announced it was canceling this year’s event because of COVID-19 restrictions that limit large gatherings. Similarly, the Oregon State Fair last month announced Salem’s signature event wouldn’t go on this year.

But event organizers got creative and decided to host an online county fair with photo entries and people’s choice awards.

Crafters will have their creations judged by uploading a picture of what they’ve made and telling friends and family to vote for them.

CONTEST LINK

Categories include photography, floral and garden, hobbies, creative arts, textiles, science, decorated food, table decorating, face masks and odd-shaped veggies. Entries are accepted until the end of June and judging runs from July 1 to July 12. Winners will get passes to next year’s fair.

A timely addition to this year’s contest is face masks.

Jill Ingalls, Marion County Fair event coordinator, said there was a Facebook post on the fair’s page asking people to show off their face masks after quarantine started.

She said there were so many fun submissions they thought to include it as a category.  

“We know that a lot of people are sewing face masks from home, we’re hoping we can see some creativity there for that,” Ingalls said.

She’s hoping that the ease of entering this year’s contests will draw more people to the fair.

“The thing that was exciting to me is: are we going to reach new people,” Ingalls said.

Last year, there were 1,185 items entered into the fair, more than double the amount of entries from 2015.

Melanie McCabe, Marion County 4-H coordinator, said 4-H and FFA kids won’t be critiqued on showmanship this year, instead judges will focus on characteristics of the animal like frame, size and muscle structure.

She said they didn’t have any other option besides going virtual and overwhelmingly people said they wanted to have something rather than nothing.

So, kids will either submit a minute-long video of their animal from each angle or participate in a video conference interview with judges for smaller animals like rabbits, chickens and turkeys.

People can bid on livestock through an eBay-style auction online which will email bidders when they’ve been outbid.

The virtual auction starts at 5 p.m. on July 7 and runs through July 9.

McCabe said she feels like more people will participate in the auction because it’s a simple process. There’s also an option to donate meat to the Marion Polk Food Share.

“It’s a good way to support both the kids and a good way to support local businesses,” she said.

Earlier this year, McCabe sent out a survey asking what participants would miss most about this year’s fair and a majority said they will miss spending time with their friends.

“We can’t forget that the really important piece that happens at the fair is the community piece, and the learning and the sense of belonging that kids get from being together. And that’s something that will definitely be missed this year,” she said

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