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Community Spotlight: Ideal 4-H Club

I grew up in an urban area where 4-H was something I only heard about at the county fair. It wasn’t until I moved to Menomonie to attend UW-Stout that I realized it was much more than showing animals at annual events. One of my college roommates was, what she called, a “4-H Kid” and opened my eyes to the impact that these clubs have on young people and how they carry those skills and knowledge with them throughout their lives.

According to the national 4-H website, the organization was founded in the early 1900s as a way of connecting public school education with country life. The first youth club, called “The Tomato Club” or “Corn Growing Club,” was started in 1902 in Clark County, Ohio followed by an agriculture after-school club in Douglas County, Minnesota the same year. By 1912, the clover logo with an H on each leaf was created, and these youth groups were being called 4-H clubs. After the passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, the Cooperative Extension System at the USDA was created, which now consists of over 100 universities and 3,000 county offices around the country that have helped 4-H become a nationally recognized program. Wisconsin specifically has been a leader in youth development, life skills, and lasting impacts on communities through 4-H for over 100 years.

In Dunn County, we have multiple 4-H clubs, each with its own individual focuses and cultures, allowing families to find a club that’s the right fit for them and their values. I interviewed Mariann Holm, Menomonie Market Food Co-op board member, farm owner, and parent, to learn what her group, Ideal 4-H Club, has been up to and what makes it unique.

The goal of Ideal 4-H Club is to provide an accessible club to all youth, including urban as well as rural families, without the financial barriers of youth projects. A common misconception is that 4-H is only for farm-related projects and farming families, but Ideal 4-H Club is creating space for all types of community involvement and projects. Kids can become involved in drama, music, speaking, arts and crafts, clothing, food and nutrition, photography, robotics, welding, and, of course, the more common projects involving livestock, such as cats, dogs, horses, poultry, sheep, swine, goats, and cattle. These projects help local youth develop important life skills like learning how to be a good leader, how to become an involved community member, how to gain self-confidence, and how to form strong friendships.

4-H is a volunteer-driven youth organization that is open to anyone from kindergarten through the year following high school graduation, making it something that families can do together. As kids grow up, there are camps and trips that they can attend to create core memories and lifetime friendships along the way. Oftentimes the adults involved in volunteering were part of a club throughout their youth and work to pass on their knowledge and skills to the next generation. According to a study done by Tufts University on Positive Youth Development, 4-H kids are more likely to see themselves going to college compared to their peers, are 25% more likely to contribute to their communities, and are 41% less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.

Mariann explained that Dunn County has a number of dedicated volunteers across the different 4-H clubs who lead county-wide projects. The Dog Project connects youth with dogs throughout the summer months to learn obedience training, showmanship, agility, and scent training. The Dunn County 4-H Shooting Sports Project is a series of events in the spring for archery and air pistols taught by trained leaders. The Horse Project teaches horsemanship and sportsmanship through riding, training, and caring for horses while also competing in the Dunn County Fair Horse Show.

The Ideal 4-H Club meets on the third Tuesday of each month in the second-floor classroom at our Menomonie location. If you have youth interested in joining the Ideal 4-H Club or have talents you want to share with area youth, email Mariann at mariannholm86@gmail.com or follow the Ideal 4-H Club–Dunn County on Facebook. To learn more about 4-H, visit dunn.extension.wisc.edu/4-h-youth-development.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of our bi-monthly newsletter, The Morsel. If you’d like to read more stories like this one and stay up to date on the latest co-op news and events, pick up a print copy in-store on your next grocery run or find more news on our website here.

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