Garfield County 4-H: Learning by doing |

Garfield County 4-H: Learning by doing

Amy Hadden Marsh
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

When you think of 4-H, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps a summertime county fair and tables laden with jars of home-canned bread-and-butter-pickles, luscious garden tomatoes, or strawberry jam. Maybe mouth-watering pies and cakes, or a youngster and the beef cow she’s raised.

4-H is all of this and more.

“The fairs are an opportunity for us to exhibit what we’ve worked on all year,” said Kim Schriver, Colorado State University Extension’s interim director of 4-H and youth development in Garfield County.

This year, the traditional livestock clubs make up about 38 percent of the county’s list of more than 70 project categories. There are three clothing and six food categories, but almost half the clubs, including robotics, geospatial (GPS mapping), Latino cultural arts, workforce readiness, child development and global citizenship, are signs of a new generation.

“Livestock is what we’re founded on,” explained Schriver. “But we’ve evolved.”

4-H, which stands for “head, heart, health and hands,” took root in the Midwest more than 100 years ago with the help of land grant universities. These schools were established in the 1860s to provide higher education to working class and rural families.

But later on, university researchers realized that farmers were reluctant to accept new agricultural ideas, such as milk sanitation or better home canning techniques. Youth agricultural programs or “clubs” formed in rural counties at the turn of the 20th century, allowing children of farming families to experiment with new, researched-based ideas and pass them on to their parents. These clubs sprung up all over the U.S. in 1912, and became known as 4-H.

Two years later, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which created the Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension System, connecting agricultural research to rural communities through partnerships with the USDA, county governments and the land grant schools. The extension program included the youth clubs and essentially made 4-H a national, federally endorsed program.

Colorado State University at Fort Collins provides the state’s extension programs, such as water and clean energy education, nutrition information, and 4-H guidance, to 4-H offices in 58 counties. Schriver, who’s been involved in 4-H since she was in high school in Jeffersonville, Ohio, makes sure that information gets to Garfield County’s 4-H youth.

She isn’t sure when it got its start out here, but 4-H has been in her family for three generations. In fact, her grandfather, the late Henry Schriver, a dairy farmer from northern Ohio, has been inducted into both the Ohio 4-H and the National Cooperative halls of fame.

Like Schriver’s father and grandfather, most of the 100-plus volunteers in Garfield County are parents, and range from ranchers and teachers to business and retired professionals. Schriver said adults can engage in projects with their children or help other kids learn.

“It’s a way to be a kid again,” she said of the activities.

But grown-ups take a back seat in this youth-driven organization. Not only do the kids take charge of their individual projects from start to finish, but one person from each club sits on the County Council, which governs the organization on a local level.

“The Council is the voice of Garfield County’s 4-H,” said Schriver. “And an all-youth board oversees the Council.”

4-H is also involved in after-school and in-school programs.

Take Nate Barth’s third-grade class at Cactus Valley Elementary School in Silt for example. They’re studying embryology and growing chickens.

“It’s a pilot project,” Schriver explained. The students will monitor eggs from incubation until the chicks start pecking their way into the world.

“They’ll learn about the parts of the egg, the growth cycle of the chicks,” said Schriver. Then, once the chicks hatch, the class will give them back to the person who gave them the eggs. “This is a whole new way to teach hands-on learning.”

After all, hands-on is what 4-H is all about.

Kids pick a project area. That’s the “head” part. Through research, they develop a passion for it. That’s where the “heart” comes in. But Schriver believes that without the “hands,” something is missing.

“We want you to bake your own cake or raise your own animal.” Or maybe stage your own play or launch your own rocket.

4-H-ers have four more months to perfect their projects. The 2012 Garfield County Fair begins on July 30.

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