As I write this, I am sitting in my vehicle while my oldest son Brayden is playing ball in the rain at a ball camp. In this rare moment of silence I find myself reflecting on our busy week which included Brayden’s very first achievement day for grain 4H. Being only one of 2 grain 4H clubs in Saskatchewan it really was a learning experience for everyone in the group. In light of recent events where a farm family was investigated for having minors (their own children) working in the family’s farm processing business (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/saskatchewan-farmers-cry-foul-over-child-labour-investigation-1.2729781), I can’t help but wonder about the decisions we are making as parents and a society in raising the next generation. This train of thought has led me to appreciate the valuable lessons that the 4H club teaches children from a very young age.
I spend a lot of time helping my father in law at his farm equipment dealership and quite honestly when a younger person applies for work, if they have been raised on a farm, it is almost a no brainer. Children of agricultural families tend to have respect, appreciation, and a strong work ethic. Why is this attitude so prominent in farm kids? There are a lot of reasons. They experience from a young age that a life in agriculture requires personal sacrifice to pay the bills. You can’t always make that sporting event, community fundraiser, or social gathering if there is work to be done. Another reason is the lessons they are taught if they choose to participate in a 4H club.
4H is one of Canada’s longest running youth organizations and is almost 100 years old. Although it originated in the United States, the program globally is essentially the same. ‘4H operates with the mission of “engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development”. Though typically thought of as an agriculturally focused organization as a result of history, 4H today focuses on citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering, and technology programs. The foundations of 4-H began around the start of the 20th century with the desire to make public school education more connected to rural life. Researchers saw that adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural discoveries, but educators found that youth would experiment with these new ideas and then share their experiences and successes with the adults. So rural youth programs became a way to introduce new agriculture technology to the adults” – Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4-H#History)
4H is not a program for the faint of heart. Our leaders; Nevin Morrow and Clint Sutter wisely decided to adapt the program to fit our very young club, making modifications to increase the level of learning for the members who were as young as 6. Even with these adaptations Brayden spent hours planting, weeding, and checking his crop. While his younger brother (who did not participate this year in the program) watched TV or played video games – Brayden was out in his plot pulling weeds by hand in the hot sun. There were times when we would be away for a few days only to come back to many changes in the stages of the plants. One time we were packing to leave and Brayden said ‘if we are gone how will I know what day my wheat heads out?’ My hubby just gave me a knowing smile. The lessons that 4H have taught my son about farming were evident in his workbook answers. When asked what he learnt he wrote ‘I learnt it is hard for farmers to go the lake’. When asked if he would do this project again he wrote ‘maybe, I liked it but I didn’t like the paperwork.’ I know many farmers who would say the same thing!
During achievement day at the end of the project year, many stories of hardship and learning were shared by the kids. Carter Novak had soil that was very compact and his crops didn’t grow very tall because of that and a lack of sunlight, Morgan Elmy had weeds that grew fast and large having full sunlight on her plot and she had an almost insurmountable task in weeding, Logan and Owen Robinson planted very close to the trees and lost some moisture due to tree roots, Brody and Danika Morrow had trouble with the spacing of their rows but also learnt how corn anchores itself for strong winds, Davin and Karissa Sutter learnt that even a slight drift in glyphosate can cause damage to nearby plants, and everyone learnt that if you try to hold the neighbor’s chickens on achievement day you might get pooped on!
The common theme throughout the day was learning especially with Evan Rorquist, local agronomist with Kenzie Seeds, acting as show judge. Even the adults came away from the day a little smarter with demonstrations and discussions on blackleg, sclerotinia, fusarium, the differences between oat and barley stands, corn roots, among many other things!
I have taken enough postsecondary education to know that learning is hard work, but I also grew up on a farm and I know that hard work is learning. Every time our children get dirt under their fingernails they are gaining valuable lessons about life, and I am thankful for a wonderful program like 4H that encourages that type of learning. I must add that I am also thankful to those who selflessly volunteer their time to teaching our kids within the program. All the parents of course, but namely Clint Sutter and Nevin Morrow who took on the task of starting a brand new club, and Evan Rorquist our show judge. On achievement day all 3 gave up time from their own farms and their own work to invest in the education of our children.
Currently we are working on learning the 4H pledge at our house. Hopefully my boys will be able to learn it, live it and will uphold the reputation of farm kids everywhere when they start applying for jobs of their own.
“I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
My heart to greater loyalty,
My hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”