Operating for over a century, 4-H continues to provide a place for young people to explore their potential and dive into their passions, such as learning how to properly care for animals or space exploration.
The program was started in 1902 as a way of connecting after-school education with rural life.
Since that time, the organization moved to incorporate all aspects of science, technology and life.
Although 4-H remains synonymous with farming and animals, it works to empower young people by recognizing their strengths and abilities to improve the quality of life and the world around them, said Cassie Girling, the Crow Wing 4-H youth Extension educator.
Girling taught first and second grade in the Brainerd School District for five years and was approached with an opportunity to be a 4-H Extension educator in Crow Wing County in August of 2020.
“I was hesitant to take this job because I don't have a farm background,” Girling said. “4-H is more than farming. … Animal sciences is just one portion of 4-H and I think a lot of that is misconstrued with 4-H.”
Though typically thought of as an agriculturally focused organization as a result of its history and its current organizing bodies, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture, 4-H provides young people with almost limitless opportunities to find their passion and run with it, leaders say.
“The most known part of it is animals, but then we (have) STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), aerospace and then, most important, for like our family, is crafts,” said Audree Rosekrans, a Crow Wing 4-H ambassador.
Minnesota’s 4-H clubs partner with the University of Minnesota Extension program to deliver practical education and research that can be used at home, at work and in the community.
Building toward creating a stronger community is Crow Wing’s 4-H ambassador program.
“Crow Wing specifically is working on building the ambassador program, which is the older youth that focuses on promoting 4-H and doing service-learning community-based projects,” Girling said.
The ambassador’s work within the program is to highlight 4-H in the community, helping out at events and helping Cloverbuds succeed in their projects as they explore all 4-H has to offer.
Cloverbuds are 4-H participants in kindergarten through third grade.
“With Cloverbuds, it's kind of exploratory so they don't pick projects in kindergarten, first and second grade,” Girling said. “They explore and see what they're interested in and then starting in third grade is when they will pick their specific projects to work on.”
After picking a project, members will work on their specific project in preparation for entering them into the county fair for judging and, for some, the hopes of moving on to the state fair.
“My absolute favorite part is working towards the fair,” said Bailey Rosekrans, a Crow Wing 4-H ambassador. “So all of our animal projects, our craft projects, we make those all throughout the year and then we get to show them at the fair.”
Whether it’s preparing to enter a project into a county fair or learning different skills, 4-H gives young people the opportunity to explore their options.