Nearly 120 years after the first 4-H club was founded in Clark County, Ohio, the organization has branched out its programs, while still staying close to its roots.
During National 4-H Week, celebrated Oct. 3-9, clubs across North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota, like others across the United States, will celebrate their organization and highlight the opportunities that 4-H offers youth. Clubs often also recruit new members during National 4-H Week.
In Minnesota, 4-H, youth have the option to join one or more of 800 clubs across the state. Clubs are active in rural, suburban and urban areas and in tribal communities, said Jennifer Skuza, University of Minnesota Extension 4-H state director. Youth also can join 4-H as an independent member who does not belong to a club but can participate in activities, do projects and enter 4-H competitions.
About 66,000 youth are members of 4-H through clubs, independently or by participating in after-school 4-H programs, Skuza said.
“Minnesota 4-H is the largest youth development organization in the state,” she said. “In a typical year, we have 5,500 of our kids go to the state fair.”
This year, numbers were smaller because of concerns about COVID-19, but 4,000 youth still participated in state fair competition in St. Paul, Minn.,
“We were thrilled with that number,” Skuza said.
Members of Minnesota 4-H have the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities.
“Our fastest growing project area is things related to STEM. Agriculture is part of that. We have kids who are learning about crop scouting, agronomy, horticulture and pollinator habitats,” Skuza said.
Meanwhile, arts, including fine arts, creative arts and photography, also are popular activities with 4-H youth.
The goat project gives youth the opportunity to learn about caring for livestock while working with a smaller animal that doesn’t require a lot of space to keep and that is manageable to handle.
About 5,760 youth participate in North Dakota 4-H through about 350 clubs and independently, Aakre said. North Dakota youth can belong to more than one club, and some do, because they are interested in specific programs, such as e-sports or horses.
One of the strengths of 4-H is that it offers North Dakota youth a variety of program opportunities, and the way those are offered is unique to the area in which the youth live, Aakre said.
“Anything they want to study," he said. "It’s wide open.”
In South Dakota, about 8,500 annually youth participate in about 400 4-H clubs and independently.
“Every county has in the neighborhood of five to 10 clubs," said Tim Tanner, South Dakota State University Extension 4-H program director.
Youth who participate in 4-H learn to be on time and conscientious, and develop a strong work ethic, Tanner said. They also learn public speaking skills and how to work in collaboration with others.
No matter the activities in which they are involved, the goals of 4-H are to help youth determine where their interests lie, and then assist them in honing their skills and developing a career path, Skuza said.
“We want young people to be youth leaders that are thinkers and innovators and change agents,” she said.