When the 4-H and FFA programs started in 1902 and 1928, respectively, they were intended to help rural youngsters learn production and record keeping best practices. In those early days it was …
When the 4-H and FFA programs started in 1902 and 1928, respectively, they were intended to help rural youngsters learn production and record keeping best practices. In those early days it was predominantly hands-on work and production agriculture, although 4-H had many so-called girls’ programs, like sewing, cooking and baking.
As the years passed and there were fewer and fewer people on farms and ranches, and more emphasis was placed on young people getting a college education, the clubs faded in popularity in many areas. However, there was always a core population who looked to the organizations for leadership training and as career or college gateways.
The numbers continued to wane into the 1970s, when girls were finally accepted as members of the FFA. That single change began a steady turnaround, aided by a renewed focus on agribusiness aspects of education.
As the membership changed, so did the opportunities offered. Now there are chances to learn more about running ancillary agricultural businesses. Students compete in managing a dairy store, not just in judging dairy cattle. They learn how to launch or grow a meat processing business, not just judging carcasses. There are programs to teach running a greenhouse, create a community supported agriculture network or manage a farmer’s market.
Students can even learn how to begin a YouTube channel, a newscast as a livestream, and use a greenscreen to offer weather reports via the internet.
As these competencies evolved, and all are truly agriculture-based, they were eagerly embraced by the students, many of them female. In some, if not most chapters and clubs, the females are at least equal in number to the males, if they don’t outnumber them.
As the agricultural field and economy grows, changes and expands in scope and reach, the education and experience students receive and achieve during their years as a 4-H member, and then as they add FFA experience, is invaluable.
Besides learning skills and techniques, they are also exposed to situations and people outside their comfort zone, stretching their boundaries further.
It would be difficult to overstate the influence and experience these programs offer to their participants and the good training they take with them as they travel down their life paths.