4-H, the world-wide youth development organization

Jul 19th, 2018 | By | Category: Connecting With

The Carleton Go For the Gold Team at the 2017 Region 2 Competition. Team members were Patrick Sullivan, Kendra Stanley, Kirsten Talgoy and Mark Ruiter. Coaches were Brianna Sullivan and Cheryl Sullivan. Photo: Cheryl Sullivan

4-H is a national organization that we tend to associate with the rural community. It has a long and proud history in Canada, and attracts young people from all nationalities and backgrounds. To learn more about 4-H, Mary Cook talked with Cheryl Sullivan from Metcalfe, who is a director on the Provincial Board.

Y@H: How did 4-H begin, and when was it first organized?

CS: 4-H is a non-profit positive youth development organization that spans 70 countries across the world and 12 provinces across the country.

4-H started in the United States in 1901. President Orwell of the Farmer’s Institute of Macoupin County, Missouri, offered local boys a bag of corn seed to grow and show at the St. Louis Fair in the hope of establishing a youth component in the agriculture sector. Over 500 boys requested seed that season.

4-H came to Canada in 1913 where it found its first home in Roland, Manitoba. The Department of Agriculture donated one dozen purebred poultry eggs, purebred potatoes and seed to Manitoba youth for them to raise and grow over a period of several months. This initiative began the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, which was a predecessor of 4-H.

The first club in Ontario began in 1913, with a potato growing contest in Carleton County, however this knowledge was only brought to light in the mid-1980s. A club established in Waterloo County in 1915 by Stanley Knapp, a District Representative for Waterloo Country, has been long recognized as the first club in Ontario from which all of Ontario’s 4-H anniversaries have been dated. In 1919, there were 450 4-H members in Ontario and, by 1923, the movement caught fire and clubs spread across the province totalling 127 clubs and 2,369 participants. The number doubled over the next decade and continued to grow with the inclusion of homemaking clubs. In 1935, the first homemaking club was introduced and 1,000 girls completed the project called “A Simple Cotton Dress.”

Y@H: Did it expand beyond the rural community?

CS: Today, 4-H Ontario has an expansive reach and can be found in communities all across the province, including rural, urban and suburban areas. The 4-H program is still well-rooted in a strong agriculture history, but recognizes that everyone can benefit from the  approach 4-H takes to learning. Agriculture, food and the environment will always be an important part of the 4-H program, but clubs that cover non-agriculture topics are also important to today’s youth. Youth in 4-H have the freedom and ability to tackle the issues that matter to them most; this makes the 4-H program unique and ever changing.

Y@H: How do you attract new members?

CS: Many new members are attracted by word of mouth (with current members and alumni).

There is also exposure at local agricultural fairs through calf, sheep, horse and swine shows, field crop classes, posters and displays, record books and life skills classes covering various projects, which showcase a lot of which 4-H has to offer.

As well, we have set up an information table at the Mayor’s Rural Expo in Ottawa and at various farmer’s markets to promote the program.

Y@H: What are some of the most popular programs?

CS: In Ontario in 2017, the top 10 clubs were: dairy, beef, sheep, horse, rabbit, veterinary, pizza, field crops, woodworking and plowing.

Another popular club in Eastern Ontario is square dancing. As well, leaders in West Carleton have developed a few locally submitted projects including The Real Dirt on Farming, Farmgrains Field Crop and Barn Quilts.

Y@H: Can the membership choose any program they like?

CS: Yes, they can, providing that it is available in their area. There are many different projects that 4-H members can take during their 4-H career, including food, craft, the outdoors, environment, sports, machinery, crops and livestock/animal projects.

Y@H: What is the obligation placed on each member?

CS: To complete a project members must:

Participate in at least 2/3 of his/her own club meeting times; complete the project requirements to the satisfaction of the club leader(s); and take part in an Achievement Program. A member will be allowed to participate in the Achievement Program only if he/she has participated in at least 2/3 of the meeting time of his/her own club prior to the Achievement Program.

Y@H: Is there a fee for belonging to 4-H?

CS: Annual membership fees for 4-H Ontario in 2018 are $85, which covers youth membership for the year. Some 4-H Associations charge an additional fee at the local level. Some clubs may also have a small fee to cover the materials used in that project.

Y@H: Is there an age limit, either to join, or an age when a member must leave the organization?

CS: 4-H members must be between the ages of 9 to 21, as of Dec. 31 of the previous year to participate. Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age, as of Dec. 31 of the previous year.

The Cloverbud program is an opportunity for youth ages 6 to 8 to learn about all facets of 4-H Ontario projects. This exciting addition to 4-H Ontario is a hands-on, activity-based program that covers a wide variety of topics, including agriculture, food, crafts, life skills, environment and science. By participating in the Cloverbud program, participants are able to get a taste for the topics covered in 4-H projects while developing an understanding of 4-H values.

Y@H: How did you become involved?

CS: I was a 4-H member (beef, field crop, sweet corn, farm safety and various homemaking clubs) and a leader in Huron County, where I grew up.

When my children were interested in joining 4-H, I became a leader in Carleton County. I lead various agricultural (dairy, field crop, agricultural hazards, and life skills (square dancing, fitness, seniors, baking and cooking) clubs.

Y@H: How has 4-H changed since it first began?

CS: The 1950s brought about a great deal of change for the Boys’ and Girls’ Club program.  In 1952, the program name was changed to 4-H Canada. The name 4-H was selected to represent the 4-H’s in the pledge: head, heart, hands and health. At this point the 4-H logo was also selected. During the mid- to late-1950s, there was also a critical refocus of 4-H initiatives. A switch was seen that placed the focus on the individual members and their development rather than the project. The Club goal switched from the best calf or crop, to the most well-rounded individuals and best community contributing citizens. This is the focus that 4-H still holds today; building leadership and life skills that equip youth with the tools they need to reach their full potential and become conscious and contributing citizens.

The scope of 4-H clubs changed and the homemaking club title has changed to life skills clubs which goes beyond the traditional baking, sewing, handiwork and cooking clubs. Along with those traditional clubs, life skills covers archery, barn quilts, bird watching, gardening, lego, intro to personal fitness, photography, and square dancing. The list goes on.

As well, the Cloverbuds program was introduced in Ontario in 2013 for 6 to 8 year olds.

Y@H: What do you see as the future of 4-H…will it survive in this day and age when there are so many options for young people out there?

CS: 4-H clubs focus on a wide array of issues pertinent to today’s youth. 4-H is recognized across the globe as a program that teaches essential skills for youth to become proactive forces within their communities. The 4-H program continues to grow in Ontario and I see it continuing into the future as we continue to develop programs of interest to today’s youth and strive to keep up with today’s changing technology.

Y@H: I presume there is a real connection between 4-H and the rural and county fairs we are now enjoying this time of year.  Can you talk a bit about that connection?

CS: Many of the agricultural fairs have a 4-H component to it. This may be hosting a club achievement day for a local 4-H dairy, beef, sheep, horse or swine club, to having a display area for 4-H field crop projects, life skills projects, poster and display boards. In Region 2, in Eastern Ontario, Metcalfe Fair hosts for the Region 2 Championship Show, which brings together members from Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec to compete against each other in the livestock commodities, life skills and field crops.

Y@H:  As a leader, how much of your time does it take to keep your commitment to 4-H?

CS: I enjoying leading various agricultural and life skills 4-H clubs, but I like to run them when the college and university students are home for the summer, so that they do not miss out on some of these opportunities. From mid-April until the end of August, I am busy with 4-H clubs anywhere from three to six days a week.

I also attend the Carleton 4-H Association meetings as their Association Representative, am involved with Golf East which is hosted by the 4-H Ontario Foundation and am on the Provincial Board of Directors.

Y@H:  What are the current membership numbers?

CS: 4-H Ontario had 6,188 members in 2017 (comprised of 5565 youth members and 623 Cloverbud members) and 2,011 volunteers. 4-H Canada is made up of over 25,000 members and 7,700 volunteers. Worldwide, there are almost seven million 4-H’ers.

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