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Not every 4-H family is tech-savvy

Tom J. Bechman county fair show ring where kids are showing pigs
ONLINE ENTRY: Odds are every one of the animals that passed through this county fair show ring were entered online. It’s also likely that in some homes, blood, sweat and literal tears went into the process!
Some families still prefer paper registration and paper manuals.

There is a reason John Deere debuted a simple planter at the National Farm Machinery Show in 2019, and sources indicate sales are ahead of expectations. There is a reason small community banks that still offer paper checks and one-on-one personal service thrive. While technology is cool, and I love writing about it, everyone isn’t ready for a paperless, precision-tech, high-tech-all-the-time world.

What does this have to do with the 4-H conversation and reviving 4-H membership and enrollment in projects across the state? Not all families with 4-H-age children prefer doing everything by computer. In fact, some families with kids who could be 4-H members don’t have access to high-speed internet. Some don’t have internet, period.

For those who want to do everything online, include registering for 4-H and 4-H projects, that’s great. If it’s efficient for the parent or grandparent and they like it, and it simplifies things for the Extension staff, I’m all for it. And if 4-H Spark clubs or regular clubs want to develop and offer computer-based projects, even computer-based 4-H county fair exhibits, that’s great too.

What’s not so great is excluding families who aren’t at that point, either by choice or circumstance. Why should they be left behind when there is still plenty of ink and paper out there?

Flexibility matters

One reader responding to an earlier column hit a nerve. This person insisted that one of the biggest problems holding back project enrollment and even 4-H membership is the requirement that you must enroll online. Anecdotally, I can relate. I don’t sign up our grandchildren in 4-H. My wife, Carla, doesn’t either, but she gets the frantic phone call near the due date every year. The website isn’t working properly, or our daughter can’t figure out which box should be checked. And when it’s time to enroll sheep for the fair itself, the process begins again.

The reader stated, and my wife concurs, that enrolling animals or any project for the fair is far from intuitive in the current system. I’ll take their word for it. If that’s the case, why not simplify the signup process?

Travelling the state, anecdotally once again, I’ve heard about families who gave up on 4-H primarily because they didn’t like wasting time trying to enroll projects.

Don Cummings, a retired dentist and landowner and farmer near Seymour, Ind., is a 4-H enthusiast, and he believes 4-H should be repackaged. He would love to see several manuals redone, such as for forestry, which he would call “Trees,” and soil conservation. But he wants to see paper versions too, not just new online manuals.

“The reality is that a lot of grandparents are raising grandchildren today,” he says. “And even if they’re not, many grandparents help with 4-H. Many people in that generation are not computer-savvy. Yes, some are — but why shut out those that aren’t by making everything online and wireless?”

We hope you visit Maybe you are reading this online. We like being online, but we also like printing magazines. Some people still like holding printed paper in their hands.

“I still like print versions, especially for certain uses,” Cummings says. “I firmly believe many 4-H manuals should be updated, but I also firmly believe there should be print versions.”

Here’s hoping we don’t leave some potential 4-H members and families behind just because we insist on using the latest technology, ready or not.

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