To many city-dwellers, the mention of 4-H conjures images of the county fair: kids chasing greased pigs, chicken cages with red ribbons, white and black cows towering over smiling youngsters. While this perception of the century old organization is partly true, the history and current mission of 4-H (Head, Heart, Hands & Health) is much more expansive. 4-H clubs started in Ohio in the late 19th century as the USDA's Cooperative Extension System were beginning to disseminate new farming technology through land grant universities and regional offices. As it often happens, older farmers were less keen on experimenting with new "advances" in their field (literally). So clubs were formed to attract the younger farmers-to-be to learn about leaderships skills, local economies, and, of course, agricultural innovations.
Nowadays the scope has widened to encompass a number of community activities to help students to learn leadership, citizenship and life skills. Here in San Diego a 4-H club member could be participating in activities from veterinary sciences to marine biology to animal husbandry to ham radio. (Here's a full list of 4-H activities in San Diego).
Not to say that the agricultural side of 4-H has been abandoned: Slow Food Urban San Diego had the pleasure of working with Henry Kraus, a local 4-H student committed to raising his pigs organically. He is learning about leadership, economics, and agriculture in his community in a big way: bucking the "conventional" model amongst the pressure of adults and peers to raise his pig non-organically must not have been easy! But he stuck to his guns and raised a beautiful healthy pig that fetched a price tag well above the conventionally raised pigs in his midst. As everyone who attended last months Pig Picking at Roots Community Kitchen, the outcome was delicious! Henry, leading by example, is in turn helping to educate other local farmers (or farmers-in-training) about the benefits of raising livestock organically. The four leaves of the 4-H clover (head, heart, hands, and health) are certainly being grown and nourished by such an effort.
Through the support of local 4-H programs here in San Diego we can assist our youth in fulfilling the 4-H pledge and subsequently set the stage for a healthier, kinder, and more educated foodie/farmer community:
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.
For more information about 4-H, check out their website.