This week of Oct. 6-12 is National 4-H Week, a celebration of a great organization that traces its roots to “The Tomato Club” or the “Corn Growing Club” in Clark County, Ohio in 1902. These organizations for youth are
The predecessors of today’s 4-H Clubs. The familiar four-leaf Green Clover emblem was created in 1910 by Jessie Field Stambaugh in a country schoolhouse near Clarion, Iowa, and by 1912, the 4-H Club was growing across the nation, fostered by the desire to connect public school education to the rural lifestyle.
When 4-H was first formed, the nation’s public universities, such as Iowa State, understood that farmers would not easily embrace new agricultural discoveries that came out of the big universities. To bridge that gap, the land grant universities like Iowa State embraced 4-H. The creation of the Cooperative Extension System of the US Department of Agriculture meshed perfectly with what 4-H clubs were teaching youth agriculture and home economics – on a national level.
And, if you want to take things just a step further, this is also the 100th anniversary of Iowa State University Extension Service, an organization created in 1913 as an offshoot of Iowa’s Land-Grant College, to help bring educational opportunities to farmers and farm families. The two organizations have enjoyed a close mutually beneficial working relationship over the past 100 years, with Extension and 4-H serving a large portion of Iowa’s citizens. By the way, Palo Alto County’s ISU Extension will celebrate its’100th anniversary in March of 2014.
In Iowa, 4-H has been a steady part of life for countless rural youth over the years, but the focus has gradually changed to meet changes in society and demographics as well. While still association with Iowa State University Extension, 4-H in Iowa is not just for farm kids anymore. 4-H continues to grow, reaching out to youth in rural, urban and suburban Iowa.
Now, let one thing be perfectly clear – 4-H isn’t all cows and cookies! 4-H exposes youth to the world topics such as sustainable energy, food security, wellness, climate change and, above all, fellowship. Through 4-H, youth learn about agriculture, animal sciences, home economics, environmental protection, child care and technology through activities like model rocketry, computers and robotics.
In Palo Alto County 4-H is still equated with livestock and home economics, but there are so many other offerings, such as a rocketry club, the LEGO club, Shooting Sports and the traditional Dog club, to name a few. And, Palo Alto County has become very active in the “CloverKids” program, designed to bring a taste of 4-H activities to children who are not old enough for actual 4-H membership. With CloverKid groups in nearly every community in the county, younger children are able to experience some of the aspects of 4-H; with many following older brothers and sisters into 4-H when old enough to do so.
The mission of 4-H has never really changed since those humble beginnings back in 1902 in Ohio. The simple goal of 4-H has been to help young people and their families gain the skills they need to be proactive forces in their communities, as well as to develop ideas for a more innovate economy. By learning leadership skills and exploring ways to give back of themselves to their communities, 4-H youth have proven the value of the organization time and time again through their hands-on learning experiences outside any classroom.
Remember that last part of the 4-H pledge about “My World?” 4-H in the United States has gone global through the International Farm Youth Exchange, where 4-H members from the United States have traveled abroad to visit and interact with their peers in over 80 countries around the globe, and inversely, brought many foreign youth to our land to see American agriculture and life.
4-H has changed and adapted well with the years and should be able to adapt and serve youth for many, many years to come. The spirit of the organization remains just as bright today, with an eye to the future, as is evidenced in that pledge that is recited with conviction and belief by 4-H’ers of all ages, past and present.
“I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”