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Issue 974

4-H CLUBS

Since October 7 – 13 is National 4-H Week, Tidbits is focusing on the history of this youth organization, whose mission is to “engage youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development.”

• As improved agricultural methods were being discovered in the late 1800s, older farmers were resistant to the changes. Researchers determined that young people accepted new innovations more readily and were willing to experiment. Rural youth programs began to form to teach them new hands-on techniques. In 1882, a Delaware university sponsored a contest for youths, with each participant required to plant a quarter of an acre of corn, following instructions from the college that outlined new approaches to growing.

• In 1902, an Ohio school superintendent, A.B. Graham, met with 30 boys and girls for the purpose of learning about harvesting corn, planting vegetable gardens, soil testing, knot-tying, and wildlife identification. The group was first dubbed the Corn Growing Club, but transitioned into the Boys’ and Girls’ Agricultural Club. This group was the beginning of 4-H clubs as we know them.

• Around the same time, another school superintendent, Jessie Field Shambaugh from Iowa, was also organizing “Boys Corn Clubs” and “Girls Home Clubs,” establishing after-school clubs in 130 country schools to improve farming and homemaking practices in rural areas. Jessie’s monthly salary was $33.50. In 1910, she designed a green three-leaf clover pin as an award medal for club members’ work. . The letter “H” was on each leaf, designating “Head,” “Hands,” and “Heart.” A fourth leaf was added later to signify “home,” which was later changed to “Health.” The stem always points to the right. The emblem’s green color symbolizes life, springtime, and youth, while the white represents purity.

• In 1912, the groups were first called 4-H clubs, with the club motto “To make our best better.” The clubs were a national organization by 1914.

• The 4-H pledge was written in 1918: “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.” The club’s slogan is “Learn to do by doing.”

• Randolph County, West Virginia, was home to the first 4-H camp, where campers slept in tents in corn fields, rising with the sun and working in the field all day.

• In the 1960s, 4-H expanded its programs to include life experiences outside of agriculture, such as developing citizenship and leadership qualities, responsibility, and life skills. The organization has expanded into science, engineering, photography, healthy living, robotics, environmental protection, computer science, and technology programs, even rocket building! Members are addressing climate change, food safety, and childhood obesity. Members no longer live exclusively in rural farming areas, and clubs now exist in suburbs and inner cities across the nation. Of course, some members are still learning how to raise sheep!

• There are upwards of 3,000 4-H county offices across the nation, and close to 6 million active 4-H members. Membership is open to those between the ages of 5 and 19.