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Growing up on the farm, I couldn’t wait to escape. Our house was situated in the middle of an endless gravel road, stretching from one end of the earth to the other - no stops. I was adrift in flat sea of wheat, corn and soybean fields, broken only by the occasional shelterbelt. It seemed to me that everything interesting happened “out there” – off the farm, in the city, in another state, across the world. I used to gaze at the world map in our basement, wondering when (and if) I’d get to see it all.
As a club for farm kids, 4-H was part of the fabric of our lives. Like our parents before us, my siblings and I attended meetings, worked on our projects, went to the county fair and wrote records. It was just something we did; I never dreamed it would be the vehicle of my first trip abroad.
Traditionally, most people think of 4-H as a youth group that focused on showing livestock and learning about agriculture in rural America. Those aspects are still there, but it has evolved into so much more - including internationally. Where my parents showed cattle, my siblings and I focused on collecting insects, practicing demonstrations, fashion revue (sewing and modeling our own clothes) and public speaking.
Thanks to my parents encouragement and lots of practice, when I was seventeen I won a statewide
4-H public speaking contest. Due to a generous co-sponsorship by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Twin Cities, the grand prize was a 10-day study tour of Israel. I don’t remember the topic of my speech, but I do remember driving home across the prairie, feeling elated. I finally got a peek at the rest of that map.
4-H is so much more than an agricultural organization for farm kids; it is a vehicle for learning valuable life skills. Every time I go on a job interview, I channel all those years being grilled by State fair judges. In my work and civic life, I draw upon years of running 4-H meetings (and my mom forcing us to use Roberts Rules of Order). But most importantly, 4-H gave me that first glimpse across the shelterbelt, that first step off the middle of the gravel road and into the direction of my career helping farmers overseas. Thanks to 4-H, I’m not looking at the map anymore; I’m on it.
For more information about 4-H overseas, check out: http://www.4-h.org/about/global-network/