Some of my fondest memories as a child are closely intertwined with 4-H activities, and I know others who were active in FFA feel the same way. Without a doubt, the experiences my siblings and I had through 4-H helped make us the people we are today.
Last year, Michelle Hochstein, an intern with the Texas Farm Bureau at the time, put together a “Top 10” list of why youth should join FFA. Here’s her list, with my additions and photos of cherished 4-H memories.
1. Leadership skills. We learned parliamentary procedure and how to run a successful meeting, and for many youth, it was their first chance to learn about teamwork and cooperation outside of the family unit. Giving reasons in a judging contest was terrifying the first few times, but with practice, it became easier. Those public speaking and leadership skills will serve your children well throughout their lives.
The author’s two sons (l-r), B.J. and Brent, are now in their 30s, but the leadership skills they learned in 4-H are serving them well as adults.
2. Knowledge of agriculture. “How do tractors run? What exactly is a cotton boll? What’s the proper way to handle an animal?” Hochstein queried.” Just ask anyone involved in FFA. They’ll tell you.”
While I learned a great deal through “hands-on” experience on the farm, hearing from other members broadened my knowledge exponentially. Our 4-H leaders and FFA advisors dedicated their time and experience willingly to make us better prepared to enter the field of agriculture.
Brent reconnects with his cousins (l-r), Clint and Grant Roserberg, at the Michigan State Fair, where the boys showed pigs.
3. Healthy living. These organizations provide the building blocks toward a healthy lifestyle, noted Hochstein. Cooking and sewing clubs provide the basics, so young people learn life skills. A millennial told me recently that her friends are “terrified of going to the grocery store,” because they don’t know how to shop for food, let alone prepare a meal. Those who participated in 4-H or FFA learned those skills early on and are as comfortable with a mixer or sewing machine as they are with a syringe and needle, giving iron shots to baby pigs.
4. Confidence. Instead of playing video games, youth programs get children out of the house and out of their shells so they learn to easily interact with others. “Giving them a chance to meet people, complete projects and enter contests will spur a self confidence that many children lack,” Hochstein said.
Like her, I learned public speaking skills through 4-H meetings, demonstrations judging contests and radio interviews. As a junior leader, I helped pass those skills along to younger members and my own children. Bridget Beran, the newest member of the PORK Network team, participated in 4-H as a youth. “As a kid, it built my confidence in speaking to crowds and to people who were uneducated about agriculture,” she said. Her mom, a 4-H extension agent, added, “4-H provides opportunities to learn and practice life skills such as keeping records and managing a budget, to speaking to others and holding leadership roles.”
Complete with Duroc hat, cowboy boots and pig brush, Brent takes a break during the show to hydrate.
5. Good sportsmanship. “We live in a world where ‘every child is a winner.’ But the truth is they aren’t,” Hochstein pointed out. “What they need to learn is competition.”
Though this is an attribute requiring constant reinforcement on my part (because I hate losing, whether its Words with Friends, a game of Monopoly, or anything else), I firmly believe young people learn far more through losing than they do by winning, as tough as the lesson may be. Young people will be competing for internships, jobs, projects and so much more as adults – youth programs help them learn about healthy competition.
6. Work ethic. For most farm kids, their work ethic is likely founded on family experiences on the farm, but 4-H and FFA certainly contribute in a positive way to that scenario. More than once, I stayed up late to finish a project or record book before achievement day or county fair. I’m sure it provided the foundation for the importance of meeting deadlines in my chosen career! Just like farm work and later, careers, 4-H and FFA projects require dedication, time management and hard work.
When Brent got a horse for his 12th birthday, he knew Misty was his responsibility, and he took it seriously.
7. Community service. “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve,” is the FFA way. 4-Hers pledge their “hands to greater service” and their “health to better living,” for their club, their community, their country and their world. Think of how different the world would be if everyone learned and lived by these words!
Brent tends his 4-H garden project, the bounty of which he willingly shared with others.
8. Lifelong friendships. “Your children will make friends who share the same passion for agriculture,” Hochstein said, and those friendships will last a lifetime.
Though I don’t often see my former 4-H friends because of time and distance, many decades later, we still exchange Christmas cards. The shared experiences give us a common bond that lasts a lifetime.
The county fair was one of the highlights of the summer. Even though it was held in a nearby “sports rivalry” town, lasting friendships were cultivated.
9. Scholarship and educational opportunities. College comes with a big price tag, but both 4-H and FFA offer scholarships that can help. In addition, valuable educational experiences help young people find their passion. Youth exchange trips to other states broaden their perspectives. If they’re lucky enough to earn a trip to Washington, D.C., they see government at work and begin to understand its complexities.
10. And so much more. I had projects in veterinary science, woodworking, sewing, cooking, dairy, horses, swine, citizenship, leadership, and many others. The projects, the people and the experiences I had through 4-H left an indelible imprint, just as they have for countless others. I couldn’t agree more with Hochstein when she said, “The opportunities are endless and expand outside agriculture.”
Hochstein graduated from Texas Tech University last December with a degree in agricultural communications, and noted her involvement in FFA was key in getting her to this point.
“Everyone should take advantage of what this organization has to offer!” she said.
I feel the same way about 4-H. These two youth groups can play a pivotal role in your child’s development, just as they did for my children. Don’t pass up the opportunity!
Editor’s Note: What are some of your favorite 4-H or FFA experiences? What do those organizations mean to you? Please share your thoughts below.