August 4, 2013

4-H serves area youth

Peter Hagar, Agriculture Educator

— The Cornell Cooperative Extension office is recovering from a busy week at the 2013 Clinton County Fair. 

The fair gives local 4-H club members the opportunity to display and be recognized for the many projects they have worked on over the past year. What happens behind the scenes is a lot of hard work and takes a lot of coordination from both extension staff and a host of volunteers.

Many people don’t realize that the 4-H Youth Development Program is an integral part of Cooperative Extension.

The 4-H program and its focus on youth development and personal growth is a big part of Cooperative Extension. For about 100 years, youth from all walks of life have benefited from joining local 4-H clubs and participating in educational activities of all kinds.

When extension first started, researchers at the land grant agriculture colleges found that adults were often reluctant to try new crops or techniques being developed at the universities. They found that young people were more open to new thinking and would experiment with new ideas and share their experiences with adults.

The very first 4-H clubs started out as agricultural after-school programs for youth in farming regions. However, it is still a common misconception that 4-H is just for farm kids. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my case, while I did not grow up on a farm, both my parents grew up on New York dairy farms and I always felt that agriculture was in my blood.

From an early age, I owned and raised a multitude of farm animals — goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens and horses — all in a suburban back yard. Through my experiences in a local 4-H club I gained an even greater interest in all aspects of farming and animal husbandry. This led me to pursue a college degree in agriculture at Cornell University.

The 4-H mission is to empower all youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults. 4-H is the largest out-of-school youth organization in the United States with about 6 million youth participating in 4-H activities around the country learning leadership, citizenship and life skills. 

While the agricultural activities are still very popular, the programs have become as diverse as today’s youth. You are just as likely to find 4-H clubs that focus on renewable energy, computer science or civic affairs as you are to find agricultural science and animal husbandry clubs.

In rural areas with a large agricultural population, there are still many clubs that involve learning about the husbandry of cows, goats, sheep, horses, chickens, rabbits and other livestock. However even in these clubs other activities are encouraged to give youth a well-rounded educational experience. In more urban areas, 4-H clubs may be more focused on creative arts, public speaking, model rocketry or youth in governance programs.

Our local 4-H program also runs afterschool programs at several local schools encouraging kids to become interested in science, technology and math. By combining fun activities with learning, we hope to improve our nation’s ability to compete in important scientific fields and meet the challenges of the next century.

4-H has always promoted the practical application of university research to improve local communities. Because 4-H is directly connected to the research and resources of the nations 106 land grant universities and colleges of the Cooperative Extension system, it is well positioned to strengthen our nation’s global competitiveness and leadership in science, technology and engineering.

During the summer, Cornell University offers several one-week summer residential programs for high-school students who excel in math and science, enjoy solving problems and want to learn more about careers in engineering.

To to learn more about 4-H, you can visit For more information on joining 4-H in Clinton County and to find a 4-H Club near you, contact Alexa King, 4-H youth development educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Plattsburgh at 561-7450 or

Peter Hagar, agriculture educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Route 22, Suite 5, Plattsburgh, 12901. Call 561-7450 or email