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Written by Kindra Plumb   

4-H: The history behind the four H’s

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.

The four H’s of the 4-H pledge, Head, Heart, Hands and Health, encompass all of the values and life skills taught through the 4-H program. This pledge may be familiar to many of you, but how many current 4-H members or alumni actually know the rich history and tradition behind this century-old youth organization?

The humble beginning of 4-H can be traced back to the late 1800s, when public universities noticed that many adults in farming communities were not receptive to new agricultural ideas and technologies being discovered at the universities.

However, young people were open to new ideas and would often “experiment” with new ideas and approaches to agriculture (not unlike the youth of today!). They would then relay their findings to adults in their communities. These groups of youngsters eventually evolved into rural youth programs.

The birth of an actual 4-H club occurred in Clark County, Ohio in 1902. The first club was called “The Tomato Club” or the “Corn Growing Club.” In 1910, the clover-shaped pin with an H on each leaf was developed and by 1912, these rural youth programs became known as 4-H clubs.

The Smith-Lever Act was passed by Congress in 1914, which created the Cooperative Extension System at the United States Department of Agriculture, and also included the work of boys’ and girls’ clubs involved with agriculture, home economics and other related subjects.

By 1924, these clubs became organized as 4-H clubs and the clover emblem was adopted.

Today, 4-H reaches more than 6.5 million young people. These members live anywhere from a farm to a city and all points in between. 4-H alumni are quick to point out the life skills they gained from participating in 4-H such as oral presentation skills, record keeping, leadership, management and communication skills and practicing the responsibility of citizenship.

The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, conducted by the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University, shows youth engaged with 4-H are:

—nearly two times more likely to get better grades in school.

—nearly two times more likely to plan to go to college.

—41 percent less likely to engage in risky behaviors.

—25 percent more likely to positively contribute to their families and communities.

Phillips County currently has five active 4-H clubs which includes Better Beef Makers, Challengers, Holyoke Centennial, Paoli Hustlers and Raising Ranchers.

There are 105 members ages 5-18 enrolled in 34 different projects. Children ages 5-7 cannot enroll in competitive projects, but can enroll as cloverbuds and have the opportunity to participate in other 4-H activities and display projects such as crafts at the county fair.

Some of the various projects Phillips County 4-H members are enrolled in are market beef, market swine, market lambs, market goats, shooting sports, leathercraft, cake decorating, clothing construction, rocketry, foods and nutrition, and visual arts.

All of these projects will be available for public viewing at the upcoming Phillips County Fair, July 27-31.

4-H’s mission is to empower youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults. If you are interested in helping to achieve our mission through volunteer work, or if you have a child between the ages of 5-18 who would like to learn what 4-H is all about, please contact me at the Phillips County Extension Office at 970-854-3616 or by e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Holyoke Enterprise June 9, 2011