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Life skills

January 31, 2010

Before ag journalists had Google searches and social networks, there was the Extension ag agent. I first learned of their knowledge, connections and resources on one of my first writing jobs. I was a reporter for a farm magazine, whose focus was farm management and the commodity markets. My knowledge of farming then was based on what I learned in a dairy tour in grade school. I knew even less about marketing crops. It was the late 80s, so there was no turning to a search bar or Wikipedia to find sources or story ideas.

Like many ag journalists, I turned to Extension agents many times in that first position — and afterward. One story source was so captivating I just had to marry him. (A story for another time.)

Now, many years later my respect for the Extension Service is even greater. Our family participates in 4-H, an Extension program. Our kids belong to a local club and have projects ranging from photography to rockets to chickens to sheep. E., at just 11 years old, has already made three club presentations and won a merit award in a regional photography competition. D. is just getting started at 8 years old, but has given a presentation and won a showmanship award. But, any 4-H agent would say awards are just part of the story — and I think the kids would agree. 4-H is about learning life skills, whether it’s speaking in public, knowing how to cook healthy food, or donating your time and talent to your community.

I am now starting my second year, working for the 4-H school enrichment program. I teach elementary students about wheat science, fractions, healthy eating and butterfly life cycles. The programs are simple, but loaded with interaction and hands-on learning. We reach lots and lots of kids — 1,600 with wheat science alone.

I was even lucky enough recently to bring my own kids to a class. I was scheduled to teach, but they were off school.  “Bring them along,” said my boss. She said it would be a great community service entry for their record books. So, I did. I suited them up with aprons and assigned them each to a group of kids. They did great and even talked about growing wheat on our farm. I was so proud of my little 4-H and farm ambassadors.

And, now my own pitch: I would highly recommend joining a 4-H club in your community — or starting one. How can you go wrong with an organizati0n, where the kids cite this pledge:

“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.”

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