July 17, 2020- The University of Maryland’s (UMD) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) and the Maryland Farm Bureau (MDFB) fully recognize how the COVID-19 pandemic has and continues to cause frustration and challenging circumstances for the Maryland agriculture community. One of the unfortunate outcomes has been the suspension of 4-H’s in-person programs, including participation in county fairs and the Maryland State Fair. To inform this decision, AGNR and 4-H have carefully reviewed the guidance developed by the Governor’s office, UMD, public health officials, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, and have engaged in key discussions with state fair leadership, fair superintendents, and campus administration. MDFB supports these important efforts to keep 4-H participants, families and staff safe.
To echo the recent messaging of Dr. Nia Imani Fields, the Maryland 4-H Program Leader, the decision was based on the following challenges and concerns:
The health and safety of Maryland 4-H youth, families, volunteers and staff.
The difficulty in solidifying a mitigation plan that adheres to the UME 4-H limitation of group size to 10 individuals or fewer during fair/show activities and conduct of 4-H activities in a protected area away from the general public.
The uncertainty of when large group gatherings can safely resume while following youth program safety standards and the difficulty in secluding 4-H participants from the general public.
Concerns related to the comfort level of our fair superintendents, judges, staff, volunteers and families to attend an in-person fair.
Concerns around acquiring additional support in terms of personnel, materials and resources needed to safely engage in in-person activities and shows.
The need to provide timely decisions and clarity at the local level for planning purposes.
Several summer and fall national 4-H and FFA related competitions and activities, which are interrelated to the state 4-H//FFA competitions typically held at the fair, have been postponed, transitioned to a virtual platform and/or cancelled.
In addition, we collectively support UMD’s commitment to the health and well-being of the entire campus community, with publicly available plans that have been coordinated with state and county health officials, and additional guidance provided by the University System of Maryland. Along with our statewide youth, we want 4-H faculty and staff to feel safe, allowing them to continue to do their jobs without the stress and uncertainty of in-person activity. We will continue to partner with the statewide agriculture community to provide virtual educational opportunities to enhance literacy, entrepreneurship, career exploration and opportunities to highlight the importance of Maryland’s agriculture industry.
Together, we will move past this unprecedented time. We will see each other again soon having come out stronger on the other side. In the meantime, let’s all be safe, and respectful of the well-researched and expertly conceived policies designed to make sure we can resume in-person experiential opportunities for our youth in the shortest time frame possible. In the meantime, our two organizations will continue our work to support and advance Maryland’s agriculture industry and educate our youth and all Maryland citizens about the importance of agriculture to their daily lives.
Craig Beyrouty, Dean and Director, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
John Torres, Executive Director, Maryland Farm Bureau