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Even with Erie County Fair canceled, the animal shows and auctions go on

Through the Youth in Ag Bonanza and a week-long online animal auction, young farmers in the 4-H program still experience part of the fair.

The 2020 Erie County Fair was supposed to be kicking off on August 12, and Western New Yorkers will certainly be missing the food, rides, concerts and shows.

But it's much more than just fun for the hundreds of 4-H students who compete for scholarships and earn money by auctioning off the animals they've raised. People can still show their support of the young farmers through an online auction from Friday, August 7 to Friday, August 14.

14-year-old Allison and 11-year-old Madeline Gabel are just two of those 4-H students. The sisters have worked hard all year long on their family farm in Lawtons, NY, near Springville, in anticipation of the "12 Best Days of Summer." Allison has been raising hogs and Madeline has been preparing a steer to showcase and auction off.

"It was a disappointment. We really like going and seeing everybody and going to different shows," Allison said.

Still, the Gabel sisters and about 400 other 4-H students will be able to showcase their animals and compete in competitions - not in front of a crowd, but via livestream - in the Youth in Ag Bonanza. To provide a safe environment, the event will not be open to the public, but only for competitors and their immediate families, who will be screened before the competition.

"Everything will be spread out. What we would normally put in 2 or 3 barns in 2 or 3 days will be in 9 barns over 3 weekends, so socially distanced," said Jessica Underberg, Erie County Fair Manager and CEO.

For a link to the Youth in Ag Bonanza website with livestreams, click here

The livestock auction that was supposed to happen at the fair will happen online as well, so Western New Yorkers can still fill their freezers with quality local meat and poultry while supporting these young farmers at the same time. 

"Buying local is probably one of the most important things that we can do at this time," said Tammi Kron, 4-H Livestock Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension. "We have some really great animals that are going to be up for auction."

The auction includes approximately 21 steers, 24 market lambs, 7 meat goats, 51 market hogs, 31 pairs of chickens, 4 pens of meat rabbits and 20 turkeys. Bontrager Auction Service will manage the online sale that will be open from Friday, August 7 to Friday, August 14 when it will begin to close at 5 p.m. For a link to the auction website, click here.  

For safety purposes, 4-H educators like Kron supported the fair's decision to postpone until next year. But Kron says the students are missing out on important opportunities.

"The most important part about the fair is the opportunity for our youth to be able to showcase their projects, talk with the public, and help to educate and talk about agriculture in a positive way," she said.

The auction is an important part of preparing for next year and later down the road. 

"Most of our kids use the funds that they get from their projects to reinvest a little of it for next year's project, but almost all of our kids are putting it away for their college education," said Kron.

The Gabel sisters plan to save their money to build a new barn so their animals have more room. Both girls are homeschooled and plan to attend college for a future in agriculture. 

Their foundation was built through the Erie County 4-H program where they learn about animal feeding, finances, responsibility, public speaking and the list goes on.  

This year, the 4-H members learned even more.

"I like to say that this year is teaching our youth a big life lesson and that is about disappointment," said Kron, "What they take away from it is going to make them better for their future." 

For more on the Erie County 4-H program, click here.