History of 4-H is history of nation

© 2017-Business Farmer

What is now 4-H didn’t really start in one time or place. It began around the start of the 20th century in the work of several people in different parts of the United States who were concerned about young people.

During the late 1800’s, researchers at public universities saw that adults in the farming communities did not readily accept the new agricultural discoveries being developed on university campuses - practices like using hybrid seed corn, milk sanitation and better home canning procedures. However, the researchers found that young people were open to new thinking and would “experiment” with new ideas and share their experiences and successes with their parents. In this way, rural youth programs became an innovative way to introduce new agriculture technology to their communities.

The seed of the 4-H idea of practical and “hands-on” learning came from the desire to make public school education more connected to country life. Early programs tied both public and private resources together for the purpose of helping rural youth.

A. B. Graham started one such youth program in Clark County, Ohio in January 1902; and, O. J. Kern started a similar club one month later, in February, 1902, in Winnebago County, Illinois. Many of these early clubs - which were project oriented - were called “Tomato Clubs” or “Corn Clubs” or “Pig Clubs” and “Canning Clubs”.

Jessie Field Shambaugh developed the clover pin with an H on each leaf in 1910, and by 1912 the groups were beginning to be called
4-H Clubs.

When Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 and created the Cooperative Extension System at USDA, it included work of various boys’ and girls’ clubs involved with agriculture, home economics and related subjects, which effectively nationalized the 4-H organization.

Nearing its 50th anniversary, 4-H began to undergo several changes. In 1948, a group of American young people went to Europe, and a group of Europeans came to the United States on the first International Farm Youth Exchange. Since then, thousands of young people have participated in 4-H out-of-state trips and international exchanges. 4-H began to extend into urban areas in the 1950’s across the entire country, however 4-H programming had been going on in some cities as early as 1906
or 1908.

Later, the basic 4-H focus became the personal growth of the member. Life skills development was built into 4-H projects, activities and events to help youth become contributing, productive, self-directed members of society. The organization changed in the 1960’s, combining 4-H groups divided by gender or race into a single integrated program.

Today, 4-H has an expansive reach, serving youth in rural, urban and suburban communities in every state across the nation. Youth currently in 4-H are tackling the nation’s top issues, from global food security, climate change and sustainable energy to childhood obesity and food safety. 4-H out-of-school programming, in-school enrichment programs, clubs and camps also offer a wide variety of science, engineering, technology and applied math educational opportunities - from agricultural and animal sciences to rocketry, robotics, environmental protection and computer science - to improve the nation’s ability to compete in key scientific fields and take on the leading challenges of the 21st century.

4-H is a national organization delivered by Cooperative Extension–a community of more than 100 public universities across the nation that provides experiences where young people learn by doing. Youth complete hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship, in a positive environment where they receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles. Kids experience 4-H in every county and parish in the country.

In Nebraska and Wyoming, youth, ages 5-18, participate in 4-H through: 

• Camps - 4-H overnight and day camps offer recreational, educational, and even career exploration opportunities. Enrollment is not required for participation.

• Clubs - 4-H clubs are an organized group that meets regularly to focus on a series of educational experiences. Official enrollment is required.

• School Enrichment - School enrichment programs offer non-formal, hands-on educational experiences in classrooms in support of school curriculum. Enrollment is
not required.

• Afterschool - Afterschool programs meet between 3-6 PM to offer youth a safe, fun, and educational experience through hands-on activities and 4-H curriculum. Enrollment is not required unless the afterschool program is also an official
4-H club.

Additionally, youth may enroll in 4-H as: 

• Clover Kids - Clover Kids are youth between the ages of 5 and 7. Clover Kids may participate in 4-H through a variety of delivery modes, such as clubs and camps. As an enrolled member, Clover Kids may also exhibit at county fairs.

• Independent Members - Youth who choose not to be involved in a formal 4-H club may still join 4-H as independent members. Y outh have the opportunity to participate in their county fair, the Nebraska State Fair, and additional statewide programs.

Local 4-H clubs prepare young people for successful futures. Educational programs place strong emphasis on life skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, social skills, communication, responsibility, citizenship, and leadership. These skills are fostered through educational programming based on an experiential learning model. This gives youth the opportunity to participate in hands-on learning experiences built around the concept of positive youth development, which is centered on structured out-of-school time learning, leadership experiences, and adult
mentoring.

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