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Editor’s Column: Our first forays into 4-H

I grew up on a farm without ever knowing anything about 4-H. (Don’t call child protective services or Ag Canada. I’ve looked into it, and my parents can’t be prosecuted. Surprisingly, it’s totally legal to let this happen.)

Because I grew up with this disadvantage, it didn’t occur to me to enrol my own son in the local 4-H club. (My husband had never been involved with 4-H either, but he grew up in the city, so we definitely can’t prosecute his parents. Although we have found one of my mother-in-law’s old 4-H award banners out in the shed, so we can prove she knew all about it. She should be giving us better parenting advice.)

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I always assumed 4-H was just for people with cattle. Since the only livestock we’re raising is a rough collie and two stubborn cats, it didn’t occur to me that 4H was even an option for our son.

But then we got an email. Mark Bratrud was starting a new 4-H “Crops Club” for kids who wanted to learn more about the crops side of agriculture. Would our son be interested?

As I’ve learned, Weyburn has a new “Multiple” 4-H club. It includes the kids in the new Crops Club, kids who ride horses (the Light Horse Club) and kids who are getting together do all kinds of other things from baking to geocaching.

I was a little intimidated at the first meeting. When all the other parents and kids stood up to say a secret pledge they’d already memorized, I felt like I was at a foreign wedding — I didn’t know the customs and I had no idea what was going to happen next.

I’m still not sure what’s going to happen next, but we have had a chance to see what the Crops Club will be like. Every kid got a “project manual.” You should see this manual. It has information about crops, seeding rates, common pests, plant growth stages… my husband’s been saying that everything he learned at ag college is right there in the 4-H Crop Club manual. I’m pretty sure he’s kidding, but there is an awful lot of information. (Mark has assured us that he won’t make the kids learn everything in the manual in Year 1.)

This season, our son is expected to “rent” five acres of land. There’s a worksheet in his project manual where he can record his costs for everything from seed to fungicide, then calculate his profit on the five acres at the end of the year. We’re encouraged (of course) to involve him in decisions and crop scouting. What a great exercise for a farm kid! And, his friends in the club will be filling out the worksheet too, so it won’t feel as much like extra school homework.

The public-speaking contest

Of course I also had no idea that all kids enrolled in 4-H are expected to take part in an annual public speaking contest.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled to learn about this. Harassing my son until he wrote a speech, practised a speech and then gave a speech didn’t sound like a good time for either of us. Sitting through a kids’ public speaking contest sounded about as much fun as a piano recital.

I was wrong. The 4-H public speaking contest was just great.

All the kids chose a topic that interested them, and there were some really entertaining speeches. One girl told us about the many ways her family’s chickens were killed last year. She included the word “decapitated.” Another boy explained how to play water polo. An 11-year old boy gave such a great, information-packed talk about intercropping that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him for a speakers’ panel at the Crop Production Show. Even my son didn’t complain too much. He used his time at the podium to explain the five different types of tag he likes to play with his friends at school.

What surprised me about the public speaking contest was that none of the kids seemed nervous or worried. They all just stood up, grinned, and gave their talk. Most of them did it from just a note or two, with no written speech. A few years of this, and these kids are going to be able to speak confidently anywhere, anytime.

They’re also learning about meetings. The kids are expected to elect a president, choose a treasurer, keep track of the minutes and finances themselves and follow standard rules of order. They even held their own vote to decide what to do for the Christmas party. (Bowling ruled.)

I’m a little embarrassed that it took me so long to learn about 4-H. I hope you’ve already found a local club and enrolled your kids.

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