Goals of 4-H displayed by young animal lovers
The New Hampshire chapter of 4-H, organized under the UNH Cooperative Extension, has a presence at the fair every year. The “positive youth development” group, the national program being the largest youth organization in the country, with 6 million members, is designed to offer elementary through high school age youths experiential learning and “research-driven programming” with a focus on citizenship, healthy living, and science.
Though it has expanded its program in recent decades to emphasize personal growth over specific trades, 4-H has always been broadly associated with and heavily involved in agriculture and animal husbandry, having been founded in the early 20th century as an after-school farming club. Some of this legacy is visible in events such as Saturday's showcase. Parents and mentors, however, have little trouble connecting the older work with the newer mission.
“It gets them prepared for life,” Thomas Leach said as he watched his daughter, Calli, present her cow in the 4-H Dairy Cattle Show. “There's a lot of things, a lot of disappointments, a lot of joy, and this helps the kids learn how to handle it. I think they're a step ahead of the other kids that don't have this.”
Nichole Fletcher, judge of the cattle show and former 4-H member herself, echoed Leach on this point. “It gives them a real sense of responsibility,” she said. “4-H teaches them so much about taking care of an animal.”
Emphasis of the national group or not, however, farming and husbandry are serious aspirations for many of the 4-H youths presenting at the Deerfield Fair. Brendan Silver, 19, is horse farming full time and cares for cows at his home, saying, “I'll probably continue doing what I'm doing as long as I can.”
Kaylin Markson, 15, plans to become a horse trainer, but will continue working with her goats “no matter what. They're my babies.”
Gabby Twardosky, 10, hopes to be a farmer of horses and goats. Jacob Scruton, 14, has no specific field in mind yet, but insists that he “definitely” wants to work with animals.
“4-H points the kids in the right direction as far as what you're interested in,” said Fletcher. “Whether you want to be a vet, or a farmer, or a nutritionist, I think it helps perk their interests in different things and open their eyes.”
For many also, 4-H is not simply a youth organization, but a way to connect with, and in many cases a part of, their family heritage. Many speak of their family having a long history with the 110-year-old group. 4-H has “just been in my blood,” said Silver. “All throughout the generations on each side.”
Fletcher has a similar, if more indirect, 4-H story, told over the loudspeakers before every cattle showcase. After more than a decade with 4-H, she received a degree in dairy management from UNH in 2009 and returned to her parents' farm to take up the four-generation family business.
“I was always involved with the cattle, but 4-H really brought it to the next level for me. I think had I not been involved, I probably wouldn't have been so inclined to come back to the farm and take on agriculture as a career.”
Fundamentally, however, beyond the opportunities and experiences expected from the group by its members, what brings many to participate in 4-H's husbandry programs and showcases such as Saturday's is a deep and uncomplicated love of their animals.
“I like how they're there for you no matter what,” Markson said of her animals. “So even if you're having a bad day and can't talk to anybody, you can always talk to them. And you're sure that they won't tell your secrets.”
“She has a real personality,” Silver said of his Holstein, Dory, while cleaning her after the showcase. “She's comical.”
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