Jed Gierer stood behind a table with his hand firmly placed on a wooden object. For the next 10 minutes, he explained how this trap helped keep rabbits from eating his mother’s garden. But it wasn’t just a story. No, it was a detailed description of how this 10-year-old 4-H member from Warren County, Mo., built and maintains this trap, right down to the size of nail he used to keep it all together.
The last time I participated in a county 4-H Judging and Achievement Day was when my own daughters were involved in the organization. But this year, I was asked to be a judge. Based on my experience, if you haven’t volunteered to judge one in a while, do it. These kids come from diverse backgrounds and are smart, well-spoken, kind and just plain fun.
Last month was a tough one for the 4-H organization as it garnered criticism for changing the colors of the clover logo. It was so divisive. I needed this 4-H Judging and Achievement Day to bring me back to the basics — back to why I support this youth organization.
4-H allows kids to shine
For those who don’t know what a 4-H Judging and Achievement Day is, it gives members the opportunity to practice, learn and improve their public speaking and reasoning skills, as well as their self-confidence, through judging contests, demonstrations and speaking events.
I listened to Jed’s 4-H demonstration. He shared how this wooden box before me was a catch-and-release trap. “We just relocate them away from my mom’s garden,” he said of the rabbits. “And hope they don’t come back.” Jed shared how he learned a lot from his dad. The two trapped many rabbits and even the occasional possum. “They are not fun,” he said. “They put off an odor and then no rabbit wants to go in, so you have to get rid of the smell.”
How do you rid a wooden trap from a possum smell? Well, you take a little newspaper and light it at the wire end, but not to create a huge fire. Jed said you just want the smoke. “It takes that smell out,” he explained. “But my dad also uses strawberries to rub down the inside after it burns. He says that works better.”
During the event, I listened as a 9-year-old taught me more about shotguns than I knew myself; another explained the differences in cattle fitting products and articulated his versus his fitter’s favorites, and one young member shared how to make pizza. And that was just for demonstrations. I also listened as a young lady addressed the issue of classism in a prepared speech.
Time to come together
Earlier in June, I watched as Facebook divided 4-H families and supporters when the National 4-H Council chose to turn its clover logo colors away from a green clover to rainbow hearts as a way to show support for all members. As I scrolled through the comments, there were those on both sides of the issue. Many stated that 4-H has always been about teaching diversity and inclusion, and that changing the emblem is unwarranted. Others said it was a way to visually show support for this diversity. The National 4-H did return the emblem to the green clover.
We as a people are too fixated on what makes us different and pointing it out either in ridicule or tribute. Fun fact, there is not a single person on this Earth who is exactly alike. What 4-H has done for years is taught our children simply to be kind to others — no. matter. what. It is something that benefits their head, heart, hands and health. We, as adults, should model this. My parents did.
My mother was a 4-H club leader, my father a 4-H project leader. They taught me at a young age that not every kid would show livestock and that doesn’t make a photography kid any less important. In fact, they encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and try new projects, meet new members and even interact with the kids from the town over that went to a different school. Unheard of! However, if it were not for my parents showing me the way, I would not have lifelong friendships that span generations still to this day.
I remain a huge fan of 4-H; all the while, I still believe that organizations, especially youth organizations, should not be in politics or push agendas, as most young members are not even of the age to vote. However, I’m not going to run down or run away from an organization that instills the importance of caring for others, devotion to community and admiration of country.
My time spent at the Warren County 4-H Judging and Achievement Day reminded me that 4-H truly builds the most articulate, passionate, well-rounded and kind young leaders for our nation’s future. Now, all we as adults need to do is demonstrate those same behaviors in person and on social media.