Throughout my college career, I’ve had lots of people ask how I got into agriculture. While the obvious answer may be that it was because I grew up on a farm, that’s not where I developed my interest. Of course, I knew a lot about agriculture because I lived on a farm, but I kind of just took it for granted, much like we would treat having cable TV or Internet. The organization that allowed me to discover my interest in agriculture and basically steered me to my future career path was 4-H.
If you don’t know, 4-H is a youth organization that encourages the strengthening of qualities such as leadership and community involvement, and offers opportunities to learn about many areas, including (but not limited to) sewing, cooking, raising and caring for animals, electricity, gardening, robotics, raising crops, photography, drawing, and public speaking. 4-Hers then have the opportunity to exhibit these projects to show what they’ve done over the past year at the county 4-H fair.
The best and most memorable part of my childhood was my time spent in 4-H. From my first fair as a 4-Her, to my first experience on a plane to attend National 4-H Congress, to finally winning Best of Show on a project, 4-H has made a huge difference in my life. It’s been my longest involvement in any activity, starting out as a Cloverbud, followed by my 11 years as a 4-H member, to now, finishing up my second year as a 4-H leader and volunteer. 4-H gave me what I couldn’t get in school. I learned practical skills, such as sewing, cooking, woodworking, bicycle safety, gardening, crocheting, financial management, and different cultures, but also how to teach others, how to lead, giving back to my community, understanding the value of working to achieve my goals, and learning by doing. There were things I absolutely hated doing (*cough, cough- records!*), but they turned out to be some of the best things that I was able to get out of my 4-H career. Because of my involvement, I had the opportunity to be on the fair royalty court twice, won several county and state blue awards for my records, won an all-expense paid trip to National 4-H Congress in Atlanta, GA, and have won many scholarships for higher education.
As you can tell, 4-H is so much more than cows and cooking, but how did all of that get me started in agriculture? Because I lived on a farm, the opportunity was there, and my first ag-related 4-H project (besides gardening) was exhibiting an educational display on “The Many Uses of Corn”. After that, I was hooked. I began exhibiting live plants and grain from my 4-H corn and soybean plots. These crop plots gave me my first hands-on experience planting and harvesting crops, and offered me the opportunity to learn more about crop pests and diseases, about weeds that are constantly annoying farmers and gardeners, and about the best growing conditions for crops. I had opportunities to learn more about agriculture and to begin exploring careers in the agriculture industry through county 4-H workshops. I also enjoyed sharing my agriculture knowledge with other 4-Hers, hosting several 4-H and Cloverbud (pre-4-Her) workshops.
The best part about having been a 4-Her is that my 4-H traits have followed me into adulthood. I still put in lots of volunteer hours through workshops and presentations for 4-Hers and non-4-Hers, am eager to jump in and help 4-Hers out with projects, all to give current 4-Hers the memorable experiences I was able to have in 4-H. (I’m also really, really good at procrastinating, a skill I perfected in 4-H). It’s also really cool to see other current and former 4-Hers ready and willing to help out, which is what I’ve seen working in the 4-H office at our county fair all week. There’s been lots of “do you need any help?” at the front counter and I witnessed a bunch of volunteers bailing water out of the horse arena early this morning, hours before the horse shows were set to start. 4-H is a community, instilling the values of leadership and community involvement in today’s youth, and I’m proud to say that I had the opportunity to grow up in such an amazing organization.
4-H is for youth ages 8 to 18. Interested in joining or volunteering? Just contact your local Extension office!