Supply management, public research, labour issues... they were all things I expected to hear discussed during the Ag Leaders Debate hosted by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. But the last thing that I thought would cross the lips of any of the leaders was a mention of 4-H.
It happened during responses to a question from Justin Williams about how to attract more young people into the agriculture sector. Several of the leaders touched on the disconnect which exists between the average consumer and the agricultural industry. As one potential way to engage young people, the option of 4-H was offered. It was a point that the leaders agreed on.
As a 4-H alumnus I couldn't agree more. I feel that everyone who has been involved with 4-H has at least one great story about how they learned a new skill, gained a new friend or grew their confidence in themselves. In fact, I had the opportunity to chat with a fellow 4-H alumnus - Courtney O'Neill, who recently returned from the Youth Ag Summit in Australia about her experience with 4-H.
Courtney has been heavily involved in the dairy sector in Ontario and currently works for Agribrands Purina. I asked her if she thought that 4-H had prepared her for a career in agriculture and the answer was a resounding yes. "I don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for 4-H. Through their different camps like Careermania and competitions such as Judge It Day, I have been able to grow personally. 4-H gets you to ‘learn to do by doing’ and not everything is within your comfort zone, it pushes your limits."
It seems that Courtney's answer really highlights the fact that 4-H is about exposure and growth. The experiences of 4-H expose members to new situations and push them to develop personally. In a previous blog I highlighted the importance of exposure to agriculture, and how it really needs to be the first step in getting youth interested in ag careers. So it's refreshing to know that not only 4-H alumnus, but also the potential leaders of our national ag portfolio feel the same way.
However, as Courtney pointed out,"4-H is not just about agriculture." And agriculture, as I often have to remind others, is not just about primary production.This was something that a few of the leaders did a good job of highlighting in the debate - the fact that agriculture is a sector which requires highly skilled labourers in a variety of production, processing and business areas. So we are going to need young people to pursue formal training to prepare them for those careers...and we also need to ensure that we have future employees who can communicate with others, use sound reasoning, and show initiative. What better place is there to foster those skills than with positive youth development programs like 4-H? In fact Courtney credits 4-H with developing "my public speaking skills, my reasoning, my one-on-one communication and my teamwork just to name a few." I will echo Courtney's comments and add that my 4-H experiences taught me perseverance, a sense of adventure and a desire to help others.
Clearly 4-H isn't the magic answer for solving the labour shortage in agriculture. But even if the exposure of 4-H doesn't lead to a career in agriculture, it can certainly put a young person on the road to successful life skills and being a well-rounded citizen. What parent, employer, or politician wouldn't like to see more of that?
For more information about 4-H programs visit www.4-hcanada.ca
I was raised as the seventh generation on a mixed livestock farm near Guelph, Ontario. Currently I am living in the beautiful Okanagan region of BC, where my husband works for Blue Mountain Winery. I maintain my close ties to Ontario agriculture through my job with AgScape (Ontario Agri-Food Education Inc.) and hope to bring a national, and global perspective to agricultural issues.