At the insistence of our favorite babysitter, Kathy Schnell – think a country Mary Poppins – our parents enrolled my siblings and I in 4-H. Kathy and her sisters showed polled Herefords, goats and vegetables. Their mom was the club leader and Kathy was convinced that we would benefit greatly from monthly club meetings, service projects and those dreaded (my words) talks and demonstrations.
4-H is far from a farm-kid club, and while its history is steeped in traditional production agriculture and homemaking, today the national organization pushes STEAM (science, technology, engineering, agriculture and math) projects with a service-learning, agriculture basis. Of course, at 9-years old, I didn’t realize how the 4-H clover would shape my life.
As a Face of Farming & Ranching for the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, I’ve found myself in front of various groups, large and small, talking about agriculture. Ironically, as a 4-H member, the annual talks & demonstrations required of each member were the banes of my existence. I don’t know how many “how to make rice krispies” demonstrations I’ve sat through. I know I gave my fair share of “identifying cattle breeds” speeches. We’d all stand rooted in one spot clutching our note cards, forcing those stomach butterflies down. Every speech started the same. “Hi. My name is Katie Dallam and this is my 4th year in 4-H. Tonight I will tell you how to show a cow.”
I think my parents appreciated the 4-H lessons of responsibility, accountability and follow-through more than us kids. As they were prone to point out, it wasn’t their 4-H projects being swallowed by weeds or waiting for morning chores, it was ours. My beef and dairy cattle projects taught me patience (a virtue I’m still learning), commitment to something other than me (those cattle couldn’t feed and water themselves), and the value of the almighty dollar. Those projects funded my college education.
And 4-H showed us the value of investing in our communities; showed us every spring on an early Saturday morning during ditch clean-up. It wasn’t glamorous work, but the next time we traveled that road we knew who had walked those miles. Pride in work ethic is a powerful motivator for a young person.
So when given the opportunity as a Face to make a donation to an agriculture organization on behalf of the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, 4-H was first on my list. It’s famous four-leaf clover, symbolizing head, heart, hands and health, has given me powerful life-long tools and a commitment to making the best better.
Katie Pratt, Dixon