Fortunate enough to grow up in a small town enriched in agriculture, I eagerly looked forward to the county fair each July. Though I saw a majority of my friends during my weekly trips to the aquatic center and various local sporting events, I yearned to be reunited during what my 10-year-old self saw as her "favorite time of the year." My summers consisted of countless hours washing, brushing, and walking my livestock; reciting my educational presentation umpteen times in the bathroom mirror; putting the finishing touches on my latest project for the exhibit building; and perfecting Mom's chocolate chip cookie recipe for the food auction. Throughout all the hustle and bustle of county fair time, it wasn't until I was much older that I realized 4-H had became much more than an opportunity to reunite with my best friends. Instead, it became a safe place for me to learn, grow, and build skills.
4-H taught me hard work and responsibility. Having an animal to care for each morning and night takes a great deal of time and patience. It made me accountable for the health and well-being of something other than myself. I was the soul provider of feed and water for my animals, and without those nutrients they would die. I gave them baths and kept their barn clean and dry. A majority of my classmates slept in during summer vacation, while you could find me up by sunrise feeding my animals before I was able to eat breakfast myself.
4-H taught me the value of a dollar. In a previous CAST blog titled Dreaming Big about Cattle and Communications, I shared that I made my first real purchase of $100 when I was only 10 years of age. At the time, I was just excited to finally have an animal that I could call my own. Little did I know how life changing that small purchase would be. Fast forward 12 years and that small purchase has helped kick-start my love for the beef industry, allowed me to travel all over the United States, paid for my first car, and financed a large portion of my college education. Thanks to that 600-pound bottle calf, I have learned the importance of saving and investing money.
4-H taught me many life skills. Contrary to popular belief, 4-H is not only an organization for farm kids. It has programs and curriculum for everyone's interests--whether you live in the suburbs of Chicago or the farmlands of Kansas, 4-H has a place for you. I became a more confident public speaker by giving presentations at monthly meetings--speaking in front of my peers and colleagues became a breeze. Cooking, sewing, and carpentry are also tools in my tool box thanks to the countless blue-ribbon projects I completed throughout my involvement.
Although here I've only touched on a small fraction of the lessons learned from the organization of hands-on learning, one other opportunity must not go unnoticed--the chance for consumer engagement and agricultural advocacy. A recent blog written by the Animal Ag Alliance provides 3 Tips for Consumer Engagement This Fair Season. During your time in the barn this fair season, a moment might occur when a fair-goer asks a questions about your 4-H project. Take this time to share your story, show you care, and tell them why the agricultural industry is important to you. They just might learn something new too.
By: Kylie Peterson