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4-H is far more than 'cows and cooking' but it's still growing ag leaders

Cody Freeberg and Jeran Hughes were among the approximately 8,300 4-H members to participate in the North Dakota State Fair, held in Minot from July 22-30. That included members who entered static exhibits, those who competed in state-level contests like Project Expo and Clothing Revue, and those who brought and showed livestock.

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MINOT, N.D. — Cody Freeberg AND Jeran Hughes had had a busy week. And it was only Monday.

The two 4-H members from Ransom County, North Dakota, competed in the North Dakota State Fair 4-H horse show on Monday, July 25, while also shuttling back and forth from the arena to compete in the Project Expo and Clothing Revue contests at the State Fair Center.

And the week wouldn't end there, with more horse and livestock shows to come.

Cody and Jeran were among the approximately 8,300 4-H members to participate in the North Dakota State Fair, held in Minot from July 22-30. That included members who entered static exhibits, those who competed in state-level contests like Project Expo and Clothing Revue, and those who brought and showed livestock.

A woman wearing a green North Dakota State University polo shirt and a straw cowboy hat stands in front of a North Dakota 4-H sign
Leigh Ann Skurupey is the assistant director for the North Dakota 4-H Youth Development Center. Photo taken July 25, 2022, in Minot, North Dakota.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

Leigh Ann Skurupey, who recently was named North Dakota State University Extension assistant director for 4-H Youth Development, said state fair is like a Super Bowl for 4-H members who have spent the year working on projects and skills. But however the projects and events turn out at the fair, the experiences serve a greater purpose.

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"It's not really about the project," she said. "It's actually about the person making that project."

For Cody and Jeran, state fair week was off to a good start, with both being presented with Awards of Excellence for their ag-focused Project Expo entries. Project Expo involves members creating educational displays and presentations on any subject. Cody's focused on trailer maintenance while Jeran's focused on the heat cycles of gilts and sows.

A boy in a green plaid shirt and cowboy hat stands next to an educational display on trailer safety.
Cody Freeberg, a Ramsey County, North Dakota, 4-H member, received an Award of Excellence for his Project Expo exhibit on trailer safety at the North Dakota State Fair on July 25, 2022, in Minot, North Dakota.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

Cody, who also shows goats and completes static projects, said the impetus of his project was the process he and his dad go through to check their trailer before heading to horse or livestock shows.

"I just wanted to make a poster board about it to learn more about it," he said.

And it's not the showing skills or even his trailer knowledge that he thinks will stick with him after his 4-H years are over — it's the "life skills," he said.

A boy in a white polo shirt with a striped design stands next to an educational display on swine heat cycles.
Jeran Hughes, a Ramsey County, North Dakota, 4-H member, received an Award of Excellence for his Project Expo exhibit on the heat cycles of gilts and sows at the North Dakota State Fair on July 25, 2022, in Minot, North Dakota.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

Jeran developed his project doing important work on his family's farm. While his dad was away for work, he spent two months heat checking pigs. The information he gained helped both with the pig breeding process but also in learning about the pigs and their temperaments: Two were calm but he found that one was too "crazy" to come into standing heat. He used his data for both the science fair and Project Expo.

Jeran enjoys both raising and showing pigs, as well as the more practical aspects of the species.

"The good thing about showing pigs is, after you show them, you can eat them," he said.

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Ribbons are visible in front of boxes containing grain in an exhibit at the North Dakota State Fair.
While 4-H now encompasses far more than "cows and cooking," agriculture still plays a big role in the organization. This display at the 2022 North Dakota State Fair in Minot, North Dakota, is of grain raised and exhibited by 4-H members.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

Cody's and Jeran's projects fit well into the original focus of 4-H — helping youth develop skills to become important parts of their communities and economies. The history of 4-H, as recounted on the organization's website , involves realization that youth were more likely to embrace new technologies and ideas than adults. Clubs were formed to teach kids about research and better ways of doing things, which in the early 20th century largely involved new ideas on the farm and in the home.

4-H, as Skurupey explains, remains a workforce development program. But it has long been far more than the description of "cows and cooking" that she once heard someone describe it as.

Instead, it involves projects across the scope of possible careers and interests. Many of those things, like STEM and coding and engineering, may not, on the surface, appear to be agriculture programming, but they might end up with a member learning to fly a drone and using those skills to help scout fields, she said.

Bundles of corn are on display at the North Dakota State Fair.
While 4-H members still do things like learn about new methods in growing crops, the organization also features projects revolving around STEM and computer sciences that can play into agriculture careers. Photo taken at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, North Dakota, on July 25, 2022.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

"If you can dream it, we probably have it," Skurupey said.

The Project Expo displays Cody and Jeran set up were far from the only two projects on display at the fair that allowed youth to use their skills and knowledge. And that's the real value of 4-H, Skurupey said: Giving youth a platform to build their skills, whatever they are, to, as the 4-H motto goes, "make the best better."

"4-H allows us to create those opportunities for those skills to be built in our youth as future leaders," she said.

Skurupey encouraged adults with knowledge to share to get in contact with their local 4-H programs.

"If you have a skill that you want to come as a volunteer, we need our volunteers," she said. "You are our lifeblood."

Related Topics: AGRICULTUREAGRICULTURE EDUCATION4-HNORTH DAKOTA
Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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