4-H about head, heart, hands, health

Cass County agent loves ‘high energy’ post

Sarah McNaughton is the 4-H Extension agent for Cass County, N.D., in Fargo. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

FARGO, N.D. —Sarah McNaughton, has been the 4-H Extension agent for Cass County, N.D., for about a year.

She describes it as a “high energy” position, with some night and weekend work, but with great satisfaction in helping youth grow and develop.

McNaughton is originally from Manvel, N.D. She and an older brother grew up on a hobby farm and was a member of 4-H, showing pigs, horses and chickens, as well as participating in crops judging, woodworking, communications and arts projects.

She graduated from a high school home schooling program in 2014 and went on to North Dakota State University, where she received agricultural communications and animal science degrees in 2018. At NDSU, she was president of Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, was a member of the Saddle & Sirloin Club, Sigma Alpha, and Dairy Club, and served as a 4-H state ambassador. She was briefly in ag broadcasting before starting her current post in February 2019.

The Cass County 4-H program has 390 members, with 150 volunteers, making it one of the state’s largest, although McNaughton notes that some smaller programs have a higher percentage of their eligible youth as members. The goal is to enroll 500.


Cass County 4-H members pay $10 per family per year, with scholarships available. Ages 5-7 are “Cloverbuds,” and ages 8-18, are full members. After 18, they have college scholarship opportunities.

The county offers are “classic” fair, achievement days and contests.

“We also started our crops, hippology and livestock judging teams,” she says. “We have a really big shooting sports program as well. We have 23 clubs in the county, and probably 11 of those are more rural-based clubs. The other ones are in the city of Fargo. We do have ‘project clubs,’ which are horses and robotics.”

McNaughton works to find a good balance offering the more rural opportunities like livestock judging, mixed with the robotics and the ‘Rube Goldberg’ opportunities.” The Rube Goldberg contest is inspired by the convoluted designs of a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist. For several years, 4-H has developed a contest in which participants create a complicated machine — a simple robot — to perform a simple task, such as putting toothpaste on a toothbrush.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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