4-H Center, Old Baker Farm missing school group visits

The Alabama 4-H Center is typically bustling with activity this time of year, with groups of anywhere from 20 to 100 school-age children visiting to learn about plants, animals and more.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of schools and other social distancing measures that have turned the 4-H Center, and other similar local destinations, into something resembling a ghost town, with only a handful of the center’s employees present on a given day.

“It’s just demolished our business for now,” 4-H Center Interim Manager Kristy Abrams said. “Everybody is kind of waiting to see how the return to business will be.”

Other years, the 4-H Center in Columbiana would host groups for the Alabama 4-H Science School.

Other visitors would include church conferences and government organizations.

A team of more than 30 full-time employees, and about 10 more seasonal employees, was needed to keep the operation running, including kitchen and housekeeping staffs.

Now only department heads work from the center, and even then sporadically.

Another local destination that counted on spring visits from school groups is Old Baker Farm in Harpersville.

Leah Harry with Old Baker Farm said spring tours included educational activities focused on the planting season: watching a chick hatch in an incubator and planting sunflower seeds, along with petting animals and taking a hay ride.

The busiest time of the year at Old Baker Farm is pumpkin season in the fall, but even before then, the Summer Shindig has become a mainstay event in only two years.

The Shindig doubled in size last year and will likely be held either Aug. 8 or Aug. 15.

“We’re just kind of in the waiting period for how it will look the rest of the year,” Harry said.

The quiet at the 4-H Center makes the construction noises stand out more, as crews continue work on renovations, including a new kitchen and expanded dining area, and the construction of a new meeting space.

“That’s still in process,” Abrams said. “We’re excited about that.”

Abrams said 4-H Center staff is anxiously awaiting being able to open back up. Until then, the organization is sharing Creature Feature Friday videos on its Facebook page as a way to continue offering educational opportunities.

“We’re all about the kids, and every group here supports Alabama 4-H all over the state,” Abrams said.