After reading this article on how some people think 4-H desensitizes our youth, I was shocked. My first thought was they have obviously never been in 4-H. 4-H does not desensitize children! But, people will think what they want no matter what I say, so I decided to write about my experiences in 4-H (and FFA).
My experience in 4-H started when I was little. I don't remember how old I was when I started but I was too young to show large animals - I raised chickens. I was in many clubs in my years in 4-H; cooking, sewing, arts and crafts, dairy goats, spinning, woodworking, leadership, poultry, and more. I never thought that I was learning - it was too much fun! I was also in FFA for my high school years. I raised market lambs and moved my dairy goat project over to FFA my Sophomore year. I was very active in FFA, I was an officer, competed in all the things I could, and attended conferences. Again, I wasn't doing it because I wanted to learn life lessons, I was doing it because I loved it - it was fun!
But, I did learn. In my years in 4-H and FFA I learned how to be confident and comfortable in front of an audience. My colleagues ask me how I am so comfortable speaking in front of a large group and having administration come into my classroom and I always tell them the same thing - I was in 4-H and FFA. I was used to being in front of a judge. I was used to speaking and competing in front of an audience. Now, I must say that my sister is a much better public speaker than I am and she was much better at showing. I may not have been really good at it - but I was fairly good and that was just fine with me. I learned to do what I say. When you need to be at a meeting, you need to be there - no excuses. When an animal depends on you to live. You have to feed them no matter how cold it is. You have to make sure they have clean water no matter how hot it is of how much it is raining. I learned to be professional. How to dress for the occasion. How to be on time. How to speak to someone and thank them even if I lost. I learned ethical treatment of animals. To show in California State Fair you must complete a few hours of ethics training. When completing the ethics training I always remember thinking that I can't believe people could treat their animals like that - it was common sense to me (and the other 4-H and FFA members). I learned how much work it is to get food to my table and clothes on my back. Raising and caring for animals, milking twice a day everyday, collecting eggs, and growing plants is all hard work! I have a huge amount of respect for the farmers and ranchers that are out there every day from sun up to sun down (and many times longer) to get food to our tables, clothes on our back, houses to live in, and plants to enjoy.
I showed market chickens in 4-H and market lambs in FFA. To say that there was no emotional attachment to the animals I raised for market is just plain wrong. From the day I brought the chicks and the lambs home I knew what was going to happen to them. I knew they would end up on some one's plate. But, that didn't stop me from treating them well, from spending time with them and becoming attached to them. Selling the animals was hard but it is the circle of life and I knew that those animals had a very good life.
I didn't make much money on the animals - on a bad year I wouldn't make enough to cover the cost of raising it but on a good year I would make a few hundred dollars. That money went into a saving account for the next year (that way my parent's didn't have to pay for the animal and feed) and eventually to help pay for college. I made more money for less work working a part time job after school (in high school of course).
4-H and FFA made me the person I am today. I am thankful for my experiences and the life lessons that I probably wouldn't have learned otherwise. I am proud of the adult I am now and that is a direct result of being in 4-H and FFA.
What are your experiences in 4-H and FFA? How have those experiences made you the person you are today?