4-H: Learning from the past, looking to future


“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.”

The 4-H pledge has been recited by thousands upon thousands of 4-H members across the United States since it was adopted at the first National 4-H Camp in June 1927.

The roots of 4-H, however, go back even further than 1927.

According to 4-H.org, “In the late 1800s, researchers discovered adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural developments on university campuses but found that young people were open to new thinking and would experiment with new ideas and share their experiences with adults.”

In this way, rural youth programs introduced new agriculture technology to communities. Building community clubs to help solve agricultural challenges was a first step toward youth learning more about the industries in their community.

The first youth clubs were formed in 1902. Clark County, Ohio, is considered the birthplace of 4-H with the creation of the Tomato Club and Corning Growing Club. That same year in Douglas County, Minnesota, after-school agricultural clubs and fairs were started. By 1912, these youth clubs became officially known as 4-H clubs.

Since its inception, 4-H has been at the forefront of exciting new research being disseminated by the nation’s land grant universities. In 1914, with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act, the Cooperative Extension System was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the 4-H program was nationalized.

The Cooperative Extension System is a partnership of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the USDA. Purdue University is Indiana’s land grant university and holds the authority for the Indiana’s 4-H program.

Jackson County’s Purdue Extension office is located in the basement of the courthouse in Brownstown.

While 4-H was started in the early 1900s as a primarily agriculture-focused program, it has evolved over the years to address the needs of youth in communities across the United States.

Now, 4-H serves youth in rural, urban and suburban communities in every state. In 2017, there were 761 total youth participants in the Jackson County 4-H program. Two hundred eighty-five youth resided on farms, while 476 lived in rural nonfarm residences and towns.

Youth enrolled in 4-H participate in a variety of hands-on educational experiences in the areas of citizenship, healthy living and science.

The Indiana 4-H mission is to “provide real-life educational opportunities that develop young people who will have a positive impact in their communities and the world.”

We must learn from our past as we look to the future. The 4-H program is ever-evolving as we meet the needs of today’s youth.

While the Indiana 4-H program offers many projects in the area of agriculture, I encourage youth from all backgrounds to get involved with 4-H.

There is truly a topic of interest for every child. I credit my time in the Jackson County 4-H program, especially Junior Leaders, for cultivating my leadership skills and encouraging me to pursue leadership opportunities within the field of education.

In my position as the Purdue Extension 4-H youth educator, I get to collaborate with dedicated volunteers as they help carry out the mission and vision of the Indiana 4-H program all year long.

Heather VonDielingen is an extension educator with the Purdue Extension Jackson County.

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