Celebrating 4-H#039;s Centennial this week

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 7, 2002

One hundred years ago, we lived in a different world. Most people grew and preserved their own food, doctored their own stock, and rode instead of drove. To prepare the young people for their lives in that time period, the 4-H was formed. Students learn preserving techniques, animal husbandry, and land management.

These days, a student is more like to learn about micro-management than land management. Horses have moved from necessity to luxury, and the closest some children get to a cow is the hamburger from the fast food place.

And yet - 4-H continues and thrives. Why? Because like agriculture, 4-H has grown with the times, expanding some areas, eliminating others as they become obsolete, and inventing new studies as new inventions are created. A student a century ago might study hardware - what kinds of plows and hoes and shovels would best serve his needs on the farm. The 4-H student today might study hardware - what kinds of computers and computerized equipment would best serve his needs on the farm.

What is the secret of 4-H's success? The program is not about training farmers - it is about training leaders. The organizational and leadership skills the program teaches are timeless, useful in any century, applicable in any field.

The child who keeps up with her record book project may never set foot on a farm after graduation - but she will use those journal keeping and statistic assessing skills in any job she takes. The boy who takes speech in 4-H may never become an extension agent himself, but he might well end up in Congress, fighting for the rights of the farmers who created him.

Urban or rural, agribusiness-bound or Wall Street bound, 4-H can supply the skills needed for any position in life. From the 19th Century to the 21st Century, 4-H continues to grow and to teach self-reliance and leadership to youth of this great nation. America has its roots in agriculture - and its future.