When I was in elementary school, there was a school talent show, and my mom reminded me the other day about how I came home crying because I didn't think I had any talents. I couldn't sing. I couldn't dance. I couldn't play an instrument. I wasn't funny. I felt like an outcast among my talented peers. That summer, I was old enough to join 4-H, and everything changed for me. I participated in public speaking. I made crafts. I baked cookies. I showed my first heifers, Sparkles and Apple Blossom. Suddenly, I had found my talents, and my confidence grew. Looking back now, I can attest that 4-H helped me to go from a shy farm kid to a strong adult, and this youth program provided me the foundation for my future career in agriculture.
Recently, the South Dakota Extension Service announced a $1.2-million cut of federal and state funding, which means the state will be reorganizing into seven regional centers instead of county offices to oversee the 4-H youth and Extension programs.
However, Extension programs across the country are feeling the pinch. In my home state, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Agriculture Dean Barry Dunn says when budget cuts eliminated 26 4-H and youth development positions, he organized a task force to develop a new statewide structure. The new staffing model includes eight Extension field specialists for 4-H and a minimum of 17 4-H advisor positions.
Counties with 10,000 or more youth will receive a dedicated 4-H adviser. Counties with less than 10,000 will share their 4-H adviser with up to three other counties. Dunn says the new staffing model actually provides more of a prioritized 4-H focus and there’s also an opportunity for a cost-share program.
Dunn says the new structure will also rely on more voluntary help for the 4-H program. The reorganization will begin after Oct. 21, to allow for business as usual throughout summer 4-H Achievement Days and the South Dakota State Fair.
Although I’m sure our state will be able to navigate through the formidable waters of this big change, many 4-H parents have their concerns. I recently had the opportunity to lobby my county commissioners about the importance of 4-H for today’s youth. Programs like this are truly an investment in tomorrow’s leaders, and I thought it was critical to provide testimony on behalf of all young people in agriculture.
While this is a state and local issue here in South Dakota, I believe we can all relate to the impacts of lost funding and decreased spending in areas that are most important to us.
Today, I'm looking to hear about your experiences in 4-H and other youth-in-agriculture programs. What are some of your favorite memories growing up? What do you enjoy about watching your children participate in these activities? What value do you place on youth activities that nurture the future of production agriculture? Share your stories in the comments section below!
Just for fun, here are past blog posts related to 4-H and agriculture's youth:
Psst...just a heads up that tomorrow and Thursday, I will be giving away eight fun prizes! Stay tuned and don't miss your chance to take home some free goodies!