2013 PRESS RELEASES
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July 10, 2013
IF YOU WANT TO PREPARE YOUR CHILDREN FOR LIFE, TRY 4-H
By Matthew J. Lohr, Commissioner, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Contact: Elaine J. Lidholm, 804.786.7686
I don’t know much about John Boynton Priestley, but I’ve always loved this quote from him: “To show a child what has once delighted you, to find the child’s delight added to your own, so that there is now a double delight seen in the glow of trust and affection, this is happiness.”
Right now I am experiencing the double delight of watching my children Caroline, age 12, and Carson, age 7, participate in 4-H. Caroline is an old hand at it by now. She is raising her fourth set of lambs this summer, and once again, she has given them funny names. This year’s pair consists of Sheldon and Penny, named after the characters in “The Big Bang Theory.”
I think some of her experiences rubbed off on Carson, but he has now joined the ranks himself as a Cloverbud, and he couldn’t be more proud.
The organization has changed some since I was young but the foundation is still the same. The 4-H words stand for Head, Heart, Hands and Health, demonstrating the club’s inclusive manner of education and training. 4-H is not just head learning, and not just hands-on training; it’s both of those and more. It divides its curriculum into Citizenship; Science, Engineering and Technology; and Healthy Lifestyle. Although still popular in farming communities and rural areas, today 55 percent of 4-H members in Virginia come from suburbs and cities of 50,000 or more population. In fact, the greatest concentration of membership is in the densely populated northern part of the state, particularly Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Culpeper Counties.
Here are a couple of other facts that may surprise you. More than half of today’s 4-H’ers are girls (52 percent) and 32 percent of 4-H youth are from minority racial and ethnic groups. But one thing has not changed. The 4-H program is designed to teach young people across America about leadership, citizenship and life skills. They don’t all raise lambs, hogs or cattle – although that’s how my children are (or will be) involved. Some study public speaking. Others learn culinary skills or public service. All learn the essential skills needed to become productive citizens of Virginia and the world.
Someone here at VDACS says she’d like to see a 4-H project where instead of raising calves or lambs, the students raise babies whose parents, for whatever reason, are unable to care for them. I know she’s kidding, but her theory is that it takes a village to raise a child, and 4-H is a village at its very best.
Think about it. You have a cadre of willing, able and eager young people who want to learn life skills, and what skill is more important than child-rearing. These students are supervised by a dedicated team of adult volunteers – nearly 13,000 of them in Virginia. These volunteers guide, advise, instruct and mentor the young people as they perform the tasks and accept the responsibilities related to their projects.
No child ever goes through 4-H by him or herself. No lamb, calf or hog is ever left to chance and each young student is accountable to the 4-H leader and the adult volunteers in the rearing of the animals in his care. Wouldn’t it be great if we could say the same thing about every child? – that no one has to raise a child on his or her own but can call upon a team of experienced people to watch over the process, offer guidance, make corrections when needed and rejoice in every success.
Okay, that’s a bit of a digression, but I hope you get my point about how well this system works. The 4-H Mission is to develop youth and the adults working with them to realize their full potential. The result is a young person who becomes an effective, contributing citizen through participation in research-based, non-formal, hands-on educational experiences.
If you know 4-H, you’re probably more familiar with some of the projects or the overnight camps than with the background of the educational process involved. But I think this is a crucial component in the program’s success. The educational model is based on research but it’s also a little non-traditional. The education is non-formal and, let’s face it, quite often a whole lot of fun. It’s also hands-on, so it’s memorable.
I’ll use my daughter Caroline as an example. When she started 4-H she couldn’t have cared less about learning to manage her finances. But when her dollars and cents were translated into feed, hay, watering troughs, housing, bedding and other items needed to raise her lambs, she suddenly became an expert at income and outgo. My wife and I loaned her the money to buy her first lambs, but we let her know that we expected to be paid back when she sold them. Maybe we should have charged her interest on the loan just to prove a point about borrowing. Watch out, Carson! Dad just had an idea.
Caroline learned patience as she taught her first lamb, Doo Dah, how to stand square or how to be led in the show ring. She picked up pointers on personal hygiene as she kept their stalls clean and brushed their wool. She also learned about cause and effect – that it’s easier and far less time-consuming to brush a lamb from a clean stall than one from a dirty one. And I’m not sure about this one, but I suspect she learned a few things about motivation as she cajoled her brother into helping her care for her lambs.
Carson, for his part, is also learning lessons from being a Cloverbud member. Although a little less structured, his 4-H leaders teach the younger members about nature, how our food grows and the importance of agriculture. They also learn about exercise and healthy eating, which is a great reinforcement of what I strive to teach him as well. You probably can tell that I’m a huge fan of 4-H . . . and have been for some time.
Last spring we hosted several groups of 4-H students here at our headquarters on the day they came to visit with their legislators. Our State Veterinarian, Dr. Richard Wilkes, spoke to the group and really got their attention when he said, “The only reason I became a veterinarian is because my 4-H leader told me he thought I could be a good one.” Doc said he never met a veterinarian in person until long after he set himself that career goal, all because of a leader who saw something special in him and encouraged him along the long path to a degree and career in veterinary medicine.
Think where your child could go and what he or she could do with similar direction from a caring, involved adult. That’s the beauty of the village called 4-H.