My 12 years spent in the 4H program absolutely shaped how the rest of my life has gone, and has given me countless skills and achievements, opened many doors that otherwise would have remained closed, and given me a passion for agriculture.
First off, a little bit of background on the program. The 4H program started in Clark County, Ohio in 1902 as the “Tomato Growers club,” and by 1912 it had been given the green clover emblem with an H on each leaf. The H’s in 4H stand for Heart, Head, Health and Hands. The emblem is still used by all of the 4H clubs and members across the country, and is synonymous for the 4H clubs. With the Justin Morril Act enacted, each state started land grant universities such as North Dakota State University were able to be founded. Several years later, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 started the Cooperative Extension Education Service, which is the entity that runs the 4H program. By NDSU Extension being in charge of the North Dakota 4H program, it means that nearly every county in the state will have a functioning 4H program available for you to join. They are further broken down, and each county can potentially have upwards of five clubs, so you can choose the one either closet to your home, or the one that you think your child will best fit into. Children can become full-fledged 4H’ers in the ages of 8-19, with Cloverbuds being ages of 5-8. With a yearly membership fee of only $3, it fits into nearly every budget.
What can your child do in 4H you ask? A better question is what can’t they do in this program? As a 12 year North Dakota 4H alum, I think that I was in about 85% of the project areas offered, and there was still so much more I was unable to partake in due to time constraints. While 4H does have its roots in the field of agriculture and showing livestock, it has expanded far beyond that into the STEM industry with projects in computer engineering, robotics, and climatology, as well as, Family and Consumer Science areas such as baking, fiber arts, quilting and visual arts. Then of course there are the traditional standards in 4H. Livestock projects showing horses, sheep, hogs and cattle, in addition to wood working, food preservation, gardening and outdoor skills. While many people who have heard of the 4H program assume that it is for rural communities and farmers children, it is almost the opposite. According to 4H.org, there are over 6 million members involved within some facet of 4H, with 2.6 million being from farms or rural areas, and a whopping 3.4 million members being from an urban or suburban communities. Not to mention the over 26 million alumni members. A few other notable faces that grew up in 4H programs include, country singers Luke Bryan and Johnny Cash, and the national 4H spokesperson Jennifer Nettles, who is the lead singer of the country band Sugarland. These may be a few of the more popular names of those who grew up with the 4H background, but there are even more notable people you may not be familiar with. One of which is California 4H alumni. Andrew Bosworth, who is the Vice President of advertising for Facebook. Employers who have also had their own experiences in 4H are more likely to hire applicants with similar experiences. As several Human Resource specialists from AgCountry shared, applicants can set their resumes apart by listing 4H projects as something that were involved in. Personally, I have had this happen at several job interviews. During my interview they will read through my resume, and about the time they get to reading about my 4H involvement and achievements, they get very excited and start talking about the times that they showed cattle at their county fair when they were growing up.
Some more added benefits that go behind the county fair? 4H in urban and suburban areas has a large amount of Communication Arts events. These entail anything from interpretive reading of a book excerpt, to demonstrating how to bake a pie. It is a remarkable transition to watch your child at 8 years old, in her best efforts, share an excerpt of her favorite book at a speech event. Then as the years continue, you get to watch her excel and get better with every speech, and soon enough see her grow up to be an award winning journalist. You may be a little nervous as your son participates in 4H livestock shows, with a leased show cow that is more than triple his weight. Soon enough he wins that ribbon, and continues to win more and more as his knowledge grows. Until he grows up and is off to college, and then veterinary school, thinking about how his love of animals that was instilled by nights at the livestock barn. Cleaning cow pens, bathing his show animal, and the endless hours of practice teaching his cow to walk in the show ring.
These are the reasons your child should be enrolled in 4H. Not because you need something to add to an already packed schedule, or because your child couldn’t be successful on their own. It is to show them that they can equip themselves with the talents and skills needed to make their dreams a reality. To find out about your local 4H club visit 4H.org, and get started on building your child’s future.