I pledge …

4-H network helps young people find themselves through civic engagement.


Oh well now, two or three minutes, two or three hours, 
What does it matter now, in this life of ours
Let’s work together, come on, come on
Let’s work together, now now people
Because together we will stand, every boy, every woman and a man 
(from Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together,” 1970)

4-H is a non-profit, global network of youth organizations with a mission of engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development.

Ever wonder what the H’s in 4H stand for? If you already know or once was a member, please refrain from shouting out the answer. But since its inception in 1912, “head, heart, hands, and health” has been incorporated into the 4-H Pledge: “I Pledge … My head to clearer thinking, My heart to greater loyalty, My hands to larger service, and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

Ok, so maybe I was the only one who never knew what those four H’s stood for. But now that we’re all on the same page, the origins of 4H can mostly be attributed to the combined efforts of three individuals in different parts of the United States. Agriculture Extension Pioneer at Ohio State University, A.B. Graham, formed “The Tomato Club” or “The Corn Growing Club” in Clark County, Ohio, in 1902; T.A. “Dad” Erickson of Douglas County, Minnesota, started local agricultural after-school clubs and fairs also in 1902; and Jessie Field Shambaugh of Page County, Iowa, developed the now familiar clover pin with an H on each leaf in 1910 (Jessie will forever be known as “The Mother of 4H”). It would be another two years until these clubs would actually be referred to as 4-H clubs.

The passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 created the Cooperative Extension System in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address exclusively rural, agricultural issues, and thereby nationalized 4-H. But it wasn’t until 1924 that official 4-H clubs were formed and the clover emblem was adopted.

But lest you think that 4-H is all about livestock and agriculture.

The folks at 4 H — both on a national level and right here on the Vineyard — understand that to have “yutes” (sorry, “youths”) engaged in community and service, you need to meet them where they are. It harkens to the new way of trying to reach kids either through school work or starting a business or any artistic endeavor: appealing to their interests. I mean, we all know what it’s like to be assigned a task we’re not especially thrilled to undertake. Some can grin, bear it, and do extremely well completing any given task at hand. Then … there’s the rest of us (and I most definitely include myself in the latter category).

Let’s say the only group offered within 4-H is one that actually is offered here on the Vineyard:

The Slough Farm Super Silos, which is geared toward young ‘uns between eight and 10, focuses on crafts, as well as livestock and agricultural chores.

If your child has an interest in these things, great. But forcing it upon a kid with absolutely no interest? It’ll not only be torture for him or her, but completely disruptive to the others involved who are actually psyched to be there.

Lucy Grinnan, in charge of the MV Agricultural Society’s communications responsibilities, as well as the expansion of 4-H, farmer, and farmworker programming since the Fall of 2022, is quick to emphasize the range of specialty 4-H clubs across the nation.

Robotics clubs, for example, under the 4-H umbrella, have become quite popular, though there isn’t one on the Island. Which isn’t to say that that or some other specialty club couldn’t be started. That’s why “specialty 4-H” groups have formed in recent years:

The FARM Institute “Cloverbuds” group gives young kids between the ages of 5 and 7 a chance to interact with and learn about farm animals at The FARM Institute.

“Winging It!” is for youngsters between 8 and 11. If studying Island birds and birdwatching is their thing, this is the club for them. Then there’s “Paint What You See.” This is for youths between 8 and 12, painting, sketching, and drawing farms and food (produce, livestock, tractors, etc). This is led, by the way, by Allen and Lynne Whiting.

If spinning wool, making candles, churning butter, and just generally being transported to a much more “hands-on” time” sounds appealing, then the “Crafts of Yesteryear Club” would be your jam, provided you fall within the 9 to 12 age range. The other cool element about this one is that those involved will be focusing on what historic Island farms would be doing at different times of the year.

Then at the high end of the age range is the “Just a Pinch Baking Club” for ages 11 to 14. This is where kids can channel their inner Buddy Valastro and whip up some serious confections using local produce, eggs and dairy (wherever possible). The cherry on top is that some of what they bake at every meeting is donated to a homeless shelter, or Windemere, etc.

And as previously mentioned, there’s the Slough Farm “Super Silos.” This is where channeling their inner farmer comes in mighty handy. If farm chores like mucking stalls (which, when you think about it, is a metaphor for life), collecting eggs and making omelets, fiber crafts, or taking an interest in an animal’s care and habits is something that jazzes your little ones, then the Slough Farm “Super Silo”s is just the ticket.

Grinnan says “Kids have choices when it comes to being a part of 4-H. They could choose what presently exists, or they could choose to start a specialty 4-H club that fits their particular interest.”

As you might imagine, the pandemic interrupted 4-H in a big way (along with everything else). They tried Zoom meetings, but that just didn’t cut it. Consequently, there wasn’t much going on with 4-H between 2020 and 2022. “We’re only now gaining our footing again when it comes to getting our clubs up and running,” says Grinnan.

The other thing to bear in mind when it comes to parents or guardians signing up their kids for any of these clubs is that there is limited space, and some groups even have a waitlist. So it’s best to check on their website when it comes to space and more detailed information about a particular group,

Fees are typically $25 per year, but 4-H has recently received a grant that will cover that cost for each young person who wants to join.

If anyone would like to become an official 4-H Volunteer, possibly as a mentor for one of the existing groups or a new one, they can email the Ag Society at 4H@mvagsoc.org.