The 4H Program in Canada
Most people believe 4H is a farm program, open to farm kids who want to show livestock, but this is not the case. The modern 4H program still has deep agricultural roots, but it is so much more than just kids showing heifers. 4H offers a chance to develop leadership while learning valuable lifeskills.
The first Canadian 4H club was held in Roland, Manitoba in 1913 when the Department of Agriculture offered youth purebred eggs, potatoes and seed to grow and care for over a period of time. This group became known as the Boys and Girls Club.
The Boys and Girls Club was developed as a means to introduce new farming ideas to skeptical parents. The founding fathers, E. Ward Jones, Director of the Extension Service of the Manitoba Agricultural College and George Black, Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Manitoba started the first club. At that time, farming was becoming more complex, so 4H provided structured training, and also strived to instil a feeling of pride and ownership in the youth and help them to be leaders in their community and be committed to their land.
Early clubs were organized through the school. Youth could participate in many ways, such as raising livestock, planting and harvesting a garden, canning or sewing. Boys and Girls Club slowly became independent of the school and drew the community closer together.
At that time, women were highly valued as homemakers and needed to be able to preserve food and keep a house for their family. Even nursing skills were important because of the isolated locations of some rural communities. Boys and Girls Club provided training in all these areas.
In 1952, the Boys and Girls Club was re-named 4H. The ‘H’s stood for Head, Heart, Hands and Health.
By the early 1960’s, a women’s role in the home had changed, so the 4H program adapted. Girls were challenged to enter the work force and boys were still trained in agriculture, but also encouraged to develop their leadership skills.
4H in the Present
Over the past 100 years, 4-H has grown and changed in ways the founding fathers probably never though possible. 4-H is still strongly rooted in agriculture and I personally hope it stays that way, but there are also many other opportunities to develop leadership, decision making and public speaking skills that will benefit anyone in any career.
Currently, a 4H ‘Club’ consists of a group of at least six members who are interested in a given topic. These members will spend at least 12 hours as a group, exploring the topic. Usually this translates into six, two hour meetings. The members learn parliamentary procedure as they elect their own executive. They will have a President to run the business portion of the meetings, a Vice President to replace the President if they are away, and a Secretary to record the details of the meetings.
Members will also learn problem solving and reasoning skills during a process called ‘Judging’. Judging is something any member can learn, though some will catch on easier than others. Classes of four items will be set out, and the members will be expected to rank the items as if they are judging a show. Sometimes they will be judging dairy cattle, other times goats, chickens, chocolate chip cookies, apples, seed corn, the list is endless. Often as a beginning exercise, a 4H leader will even set up a class of something random, such as ‘Footwear for working in the Garden’ and ask the members to judge it like a class. Once the class is judged, and placed, members are expected to give oral reasons either to one of the leaders, or to the group, on why they placed the class as they did. There is a specific format for this.
4H Members will be encouraged to compete in their local Judging Competition, if one is available in their area. This is a great chance to increase Judging skills. Members will judge and give reasons on several classes, and will be scored on their performance. At a typical competition, up to 50 points will be awarded for the actual class placing, and 50 for the reasons. Members will be given scorecards and information on the classes prior to the competition.
In addition to attending the meetings, the members will also be required to participate in an Achievement Program. This will be some sort of event where they showcase the skills they have learned during the 4H Club. Typically, if it was a livestock club, this means showing their project animal at a fair, but this is not always the case. Sometimes a written project, craft project, or oral presentation takes the place of an actual show. Achievements for non-livestock clubs vary as much as the clubs themselves.
In addition to the benefits gained by joining individual club projects, and competing in the Judging Competition, 4H also offers a number of scholarships to older members. Being part of 4H also gives a student an edge when applying for scholarships from many agricultural organizations. Youth Leaders Projects are also available. These allow an older member to gain valuable leadership skills as they will be given opportunity to teach skills to younger members.
Have You Ever Been Part of a 4H Club?
4H Leaders are required to apply to be leaders, then undergo an interview and screening process which includes a criminal records check. To stay in leadership, they are required to take training classes on a regular basis.
Often, Leaders are members who have aged out of the program, but want to give back to up and coming 4H members.
4H is so much more than a farm program. Why not look into a 4H club in your area? If there isn’t one where you live, maybe you can be the one to start a club.
Specific 4H Club Info
- 4-H Dairy Calf Club Projects
An overview of what to expect if you join a 4-H Dairy Calf Project.
- Purchasing a Goat for 4-H
This article describes the criteria you might use when deciding which goat to buy for a 4-H Project.
- Competing in 4-H Rabbit Showmanship
Preparing to show your rabbit in a 4-H Showmanship class is a fun way to learn more about rabbits and their care.