By Elizabeth Riggs
Four-leaf clovers are not just a universal symbol of good luck. For many, they also signify the 4-H logo – a green four-leaf clover with a white “H” on each leaf, symbolizing the organization’s commitment to four personal development areas: head, hands, heart and health.
4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization. According to the Eric County Co-op website, “more than 6 million 4-H youth in urban neighborhoods, suburban schoolyards, and rural farming communities stand out among their peers: building revolutionary opportunities and implementing community-wide change at an early age.”
First incorporated in the 1920s, 4-H was originally established with a goal of educating rural youth in improved farming activities and homemaking practices, later broadening its range in the 1970s.
The organization now boasts that there are absolutely no stipulations for joining the global group, other than requiring youth to be between the ages of 5 and 21.
“All youth regardless of gender, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or marital status may join 4-H,” states the website.
As the pledge goes, 4-H shares in the mission that participants will, “Pledge my head to clearer thinking, my hands to larger service, my heart to greater loyalty, and my health to better living, for my country, community, and my world.”
And they are able to do just that through a variety of educational programs that can be categorized into three main sections: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); Civic Engagement; and Healthy Living.
As the Erie County Fair quickly approaches, from Aug. 9-20, take a moment to walk through the barns to see the livestock or youth development projects. There are more than 10 different livestock categories youth can compete in at the fair, including: beef, dairy cattle, dairy goats, dogs, meat goats, poultry, rabbits, sheep, swine and working goats.
While most typically think of 4-H as showing a pig or a cow in front of judges, 4-H has a far greater span than just cows. Lifestyle projects range from fine arts and crafts to photography, entomology to food preservation, and public interaction to wood science.
All projects require the 4-H member to undergo a judging or evaluation of their project, a showcase of the completed project, and encourage the development of positive sportsmanship habits.
Thinking about getting your little ones involved? There are a variety of ways to join a local club. Youth can choose from neighborhood clubs, led by parents are guardians and typically made up of community members; school or after-school clubs if 4-H curricula is used within the classroom, or sponsored 4-H club, which are formed by government agencies, religious groups or other youth-serving organizations. If none of these seem like good options, youth can also become a member independently through self study and mentoring.
A little beyond the maximum age of 19, but still looking to get involved in local 4-H activities? The Erie County Fair is always looking for 4-H exhibit evaluators and assistants. Or, local 4-H clubs also need officers and advisors, who act as leaders by presiding over club meetings.
And while the Erie County Fair may be crown jewel of events for local 4-H members, it’s important to note that membership in local clubs doesn’t have to be limited to just one main event. Through 4-H, youth have opportunities to compete in several others.
If livestock or youth lifestyle projects are selected, they will be sent on to compete amongst their peers at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. Youth can also participate in Career Explorations through 4-H, a three- day event held at Cornell University campus that provides members with hands-on exposure to academic fields of their interest, in a college setting.
4-H Capital Days give youth an opportunity meet and interact with state legislators in Albany, giving them a better understanding of government and an opportunity to network with other delegates. And that’s far from the end of the list.
So, when you attend the Erie County Fair in a few weeks, be sure to pay attention and take interest in more than just the funnel cakes and sugar waffles—unless of course those happen to be the names of two dairy cows. 4-H now plays, and has historically played, a pivotal part in county fairs far and wide, and it’s easy to see why.
For more information on the 4-H clubs and events in your area, visit the Erie County Cornell Cooperation Extension website at: www.erie.cce.cornell.edu. For more information on the 4-H categories in the Erie County Fair, visit www.ecfair.org.