Competition is a big part of the 4-H program. Teams compete in such disciplines as dairy, poultry, livestock and plant science at the local and statewide levels to demonstrate their knowledge of their subject. And the lucky teams that win at the state Field Day can go on to national competitions.
However, it costs about $1,200 to send a team of three or four teens and an adult coach to the national competition, which is cost-prohibitive for many families. But thanks in part to an annual grant from Farm Credit, California students are able to attend the Avian Bowl and other national competitions and conferences, said Mary Ciricillo, director of the California 4-H Foundation.
“Sponsorships are extremely important to 4-H, and are more important than ever,” Ciricillo said. “Much of the 4-H program relies on federal and state budgets, and they have been flat over the past three to five years, so we rely more than ever on private sponsors.”
Farm Credit support covers about one-quarter of the team’s cost, she said.
While the 4-H program is expanding quickly into urban and suburban areas, its core remains firmly in farming, said Keith Hesterberg, President and CEO, Fresno Madera Farm Credit.
“Farm Credit has been sponsoring California 4-H for more than 20 years, and we’re proud to continue that tradition today,” Hesterberg said. “The national competitions are a great way to reward members for their hard work and they learn a lot by attending. By sponsoring California teams, we’re helping to build a stronger agricultural community for the future.”
“We’re really engaging youth in what they’re interested in,” she said.
But while 4-H is no longer focused exclusively on agriculture, Ciricillo said the program continues to have strong roots and impact in rural communities. In fact, participation increased 123% in rural areas in California between 2014-15 and 2017-18. In a way, she said, the Ag/Tech focus harkens back to the organization’s beginnings.
“The roots of 4-H were in introducing new farming techniques around the turn of the last century,” she said. “Researchers with the land grant colleges and USDA found many adults were resistant to try new ideas so they formed youth groups so the kids could experiment with these new ideas and educate the adults.”