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4-H Taught Me About Food, Circle Of Life

Article-4-H Taught Me About Food, Circle Of Life

img_3034.JPG My name is Amanda Radke; I was an 11-year member of the Dakota Kids 4-H Club, and, because of this affiliation, that makes me a cold-blooded killer. At least that’s what many would want you to believe in CNN’s Eatocracy blog, which poses the question, "Does 4-H desensitize kids to killing?" In a previous post by the CNN blog, "Five Reasons to Buy from Your Local 4-H," the Eatocracy editors highlighted the benefits of supporting 4-H youth and buying the show steers offered at auction at the county fair.

The editors interviewed Kelly Liken, executive chef and owner of Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, CO, past contestant on “Top Chef” Season 7, and someone who supports locally grown foods and 4-H youth in her area. In the post, Liken cited these five reasons to support 4-H including:

1. When you buy 4-H, it aids in supporting efforts to use the whole animal.

2. 4-H animals are some of the best quality in the nation.

3. 4-H supports the education of local children.

4. Knowing where your food comes from is not only very important but it teaches a lifelong lesson to children, while shaping their future decisions in regard to food, cooking and nutrition.

5. It’s fun!

As a proud 4-H member who has sold quarters of beef from many past steer projects, I echo the sentiments of Liken; however, a CNN blog post quickly ignited a polarizing conversation between two groups — those who support 4-H, young people and the future of American agriculture; and those who believe meat is murder and children are actually cold-blooded killers in regard to sending their beloved steers to slaughter. In a second post, CNN sorted out some of the most sensational comments, which further spurred more than 1,300 comments. I’m happy to see that most were supportive of 4-H, and I thought I would add my own 4-H testimony.

I can remember every show steer I ever walked into a show ring with. Their photos are plastered in albums and on the wall. In the summer, I spent more time with my steers than I did my friends. And, it was hard work, too. Each day, I would wash, comb and lead my calves in preparation for the county and state fairs. And, at the end of the summer, I always knew my friendships with those steers would have to come to an end.

I think Trent Loos says it best in an old quote, “Everything lives and everything dies. Death with a purpose gives full meaning to life.”

As a ranch kid, one of the first lessons I was taught was the circle of life. I enjoyed new calves being born in the spring time, and I also learned that while the heifers would get to stay on the ranch for many years, the steers would be fattened for harvest. Does that make me a cold-blood killer? Or, does that make me better equipped to understand where my food comes from?

I value the hard work that goes into finishing a fat steer. I understand the cost of production, the calculations of a feed ration, and the time it takes to get that calf from pasture to plate. Was is sad watching my show steer walk off the trailer for the last time on his way to the market? You bet it was! But, I also took pride in the fact that my hard work would go to nurture my family and many others, and not just in the obvious way with steaks and burgers, but with beef by-products that enrich human lives each and every day. By-products include everything from makeup and deodorants, to pharmaceutical and transportation items. These are lessons learned that I don't take for granted, and I doubt the many naysayers have been that close and intimate to where their food comes from as a 4-H kid.

4-H stands for "head, heart, hands and health," and I believe kids in 4-H use their heads for common sense, their hearts in taking care of the animals, and their hands in working hard to make the world a better place. And, that final word, "health?" Well, as a 4-H member who raised, sold and ate my own show steers and pigs, I can honestly say I have a great handle on food, nutrition and the people who have dedicated their lives to putting healthy meals on the table.

What's your take on the big debate? Share your 4-H stories and show steer memories? Is it fair for activists to target youth and accuse 4-H kids of being murderers?