This is an article shared by John Gibbs, originally published as an editorial in the Crawford County Independent in Gays Mills, WI.
Happy 100th birthday to all present and past 4-H clubs, members, parents, leaders, and supporters that are or have been a part of this venerable organization. You’ve probably seen and heard about that well known institution, represented by the iconic four-leaf clover, hitting their triple digit anniversary celebration this year. It’s a fine group for sure and has done much to help legions of young people develop in the last century. I’m sure many if not most readers of this newspaper can look back fondly upon their involvement in 4-H. Head, Heart, Hands, and Health, yep, that sums up the quartet of vital things that 4-H strives to emphasize and improve. Not bad totems for a full life.
Gosh, 100 years. Think of that. Think of the changes that 4-H has seen and weathered. There were a lot more rural kids and life itself was much more rural back in 1914. Actually, the seed of the idea of 4-H went back further than that. It was an organic idea, meaning grass-roots level, spontaneous, widespread, and a natural outgrowth of the society at the time, and a great idea it was. Come to think of it, all farms were organic then, farm chemicals and fertilizers were way off in the future. At first there were local “corn clubs” or “tomato clubs” organized for young people. But the establishment of the national 4-H organization began in 1914 with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act which set up the Cooperative Extension Service at the USDA.
I was a proud and active member of the Feeders, Breeders, and Seeders 4-H Club in Fullerton, California as a young lad. It definitely felt like a good fit for me. While my siblings were involved in sports, music, scouts, and whatnot, the 4-H experience for me, under the excellent guidance of club leader Barbara Kent, included lots of fun contests, field trips, participating in fairs, leadership development activities, and project work with all manner of things agricultural. I raised rabbits, chickens, lambs, and gardens, learned to keep rudimentary records, fill out applications, and earn awards that seemed important at the time…..and they were.
4-H has evolved and kept up with the changing times. It is the largest youth development organization in the country and claims to have 6 million members from age 5 to 21 in 90,000 local clubs. 4-H is also found in 80 countries around the world. While 4-H is usually thought of as a program for rural or farm students, and that’s how it started, today it also includes many suburban, urban, and city dwellers. A glance at the list of programs offered to 4-H members is quite jaw-dropping. Far from the rabbit/poultry offerings of days past (although those are still available) the list of curriculum choices includes computer (of course), bicycle, Latino cultural arts, robotics, geospatial, wind energy, filmmaking, and dozens of others.
If you’re looking for something to feel good about, feel good about 4-H. It’s a dynamic national and world-wide organization and there’s one or more busy and excited local groups near you. It’s 100 years old, but it seems like its just getting started.