Competition is a big part of the 4-H program. Teams compete in such disciplines as dairy, poultry, livestock and plant science at the local and statewide levels to demonstrate their knowledge of their subject. And the lucky teams that win at the state Field Day can go on to national competitions.
Most recently, the National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference was held in Louisville, Ky., earlier this month. The conference included a range of contests including the Avian Bowl, which tested contestants’ knowledge of exhibition, husbandry, anatomy, and several other poultry-related subjects in a game show-like fashion. Contestants needed to show both speed and accuracy to win, and California 4-H members have won more Avian Bowls than any other state. (Unfortunately, not this year, as a team from Alabama took home the prize.)
However, it costs about $1,200 to send a team of three or four teens and an adult coach to the national competition, which is cost-prohibitive for many families. But thanks in part to an annual grant from Farm Credit, California students are able to attend the Avian Bowl and other national competitions and conferences, said Mary Ciricillo, director of the California 4-H Foundation.
“Sponsorships are extremely important to 4-H, and are more important than ever,” Ciricillo said. “Much of the 4-H program relies on federal and state budgets, and they have been flat over the past three to five years, so we rely more than ever on private sponsors.”
Farm Credit support covers about one-quarter of the team’s cost, she said.
While the 4-H program is expanding quickly into urban and suburban areas, its core remains firmly in farming, said Keith Hesterberg, President and CEO, Fresno Madera Farm Credit.
“Farm Credit has been sponsoring California 4-H for more than 20 years, and we’re proud to continue that tradition today,” Hesterberg said. “The national competitions are a great way to reward members for their hard work and they learn a lot by attending. By sponsoring California teams, we’re helping to build a stronger agricultural community for the future.”
The 4-H program is growing rapidly in urban areas in California and nationally and has expanded its focus to four broad areas: leadership; civic engagement; healthy living; and Ag/Tech, consisting of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) along with agriculture.
“We’re really engaging youth in what they’re interested in,” she said.
But while 4-H is no longer focused exclusively on agriculture, Ciricillo said the program continues to have strong roots and impact in rural communities. In fact, participation increased 123% in rural areas in California between 2014-15 and 2017-18. In a way, she said, the Ag/Tech focus harkens back to the organization’s beginnings.
“The roots of 4-H were in introducing new farming techniques around the turn of the last century,” she said. “Researchers with the land grant colleges and USDA found many adults were resistant to try new ideas so they formed youth groups so the kids could experiment with these new ideas and educate the adults.”
About Farm Credit:
American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit West and Fresno Madera Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com.
About the California 4-H Foundation: The California 4-H Foundation is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1971 and affiliated with the University of California. The purpose of the Foundation is to raise funds in support of the University of California 4-H Youth Development Program. In tum, these funds allow the 4-H Youth Development Program to expand or enhance existing 4-H programs and develop innovative programs providing an array of skills and enrichment opportunities to California youth.