Tennessee Extension works to deliver programming safely

The pandemic has cut the number of face-to-fcae contacts most Extension offices have, but the organization is still working to deliver programming as safely as possible in person.

The grounds were mostly empty this year, the always strong Wilson County Fair was canceled due to COVID-19. Usually it is one of the biggest county fairs in the country-- half a million visitors in nine days, and an estimated $90 million dollars in economic impact.

However, in 2020, at least part of the fun still happened. University of Tennessee Extension’s Ruth Correll states, “This was to give the youth the opportunity to show, and everybody supported it in such a grand manner.”

No rides or exhibits, but fairs are still about agriculture and it was decided the 4-H livestock competitions would still take place.

More than 1,000 kids showed more than 3,400 animals. Children and parents were instructed to follow CDC guidelines to safely hold an in person and “in animal” competition.

“We had approximately 600 head of dairy goats here, about 550 of sheep, different breeds of sheep here during the week. So, over 100 head of hogs, and our market lamb and community ewe show was bigger than it’s been in several years,” Correll said.

UT Extension has more of face-to-face contacts every year, but COVID put a stop to that. Events Extension is involved in, like the Wilson County Fair, had to scale back, but there was still programming that had to be delivered.

Extension agents are sharing many programs virtually, like a 4-H club meeting. Farm visits and family and consumer programs are also online when possible.

Tim Cross, the Vice President of the UT Institute of Agriculture, states, “What we’ve learned, in many instances using online formats have actually increased the audience, and increased the reach that we’ve had for the programs.”

“We were really concerned about our clients and making sure that we were still connecting with them, making sure that they knew that ‘hey, we’re still here, we’re still working for you. It just looks different right now,” UT Extension Shelly Barns added.

Come mid-week, they spread information about parenting, money management, food safety, and good health through a media campaign. All as a response to COVID.