Today, I am arriving in Germany for a couple of days to be a tourist and then I am attending the Future of Farming Dialog hosted by Bayer CropScience. I am one of 20 global bloggers attending along with other media attendees. I will share more about my learning and adventures in the coming weeks. Follow along September 6-8 on Twitter #FutureFarming and YouTube about the event. Instead of blogging in a groggy, post eight-hour long flight, I scheduled this post to share with you my column and new photos about our first North Dakota 4-H Camp. You can find my weekly columns posted each Saturday on Agweek.
A year ago, I persuaded our daughter Elizabeth, who is often unsure about new experiences and prefers staying close to home, to give the Bible camp I attended as a child a try. Two friends tagged along for the three-night camp. When I came to pick them up at the end of camp, one of her friends said: “Oh wow! You’re already here to get us and Elizabeth just stopped crying!” The three nights away proved to be stressful for Elizabeth.
Despite her less-than-enthusiastic experience, I didn’t want summer camp to be out of the question for Elizabeth again. This past winter, I received information about 4-H camp for Clover Kids. Read here to learn about what 4-H is if you are not familiar. Both of our daughters are of age to attend and a parent is welcome to stay overnight. Teresa, a rancher friend from Manning, N.D., signed up to attend with three of her daughters and we requested to share a cabin. The seven of us enjoyed our time together at Clover camp—and it was a perfect way to ease Elizabeth into the idea of giving summer camps another try.
The opportunities available through 4-H are as varied as the interests of the kids and families who participate. 4-H isn’t just comprised of farm kids who show livestock. While I’ve been involved with 4-H the past three years, I’m still learning. I wasn’t a 4-H member as a kid, or at least not for very long. My mom jokes the 4-H gene skipped a generation from her to my kids. My daughters love 4-H. I probably would have loved it if I had given 4-H a chance, but I had a rebellious streak—if my mom enjoyed it, I wouldn’t even give it a try.
Now I serve as one of two Cloverbud leaders for 15 to 20 kids between the ages of 5 and 7. Some of the kids live in town and a few on farms. My co-leader, Tammy, and I plan our monthly meetings around the varied interests of our members.
4-H Clover camp provided me with new ideas to teach, engage and challenge our members. About four county Extension agents from around the state, along with experts in the particular fields, led various activities on animals, fish, bugs, cooking with cast iron over a campfire and creating animal paw prints in plaster. Coupled with games, songs, water fun and meeting new friends, it was an intense 28 hours of camp. The home-cooked meals were nutritious and yummy. Really, it was a mini-vacation. The kids were so worn out, they slept right through the storms that ragged all night (the moms didn’t get very much sleep, though).
My biggest takeaways from 4-H camp weren’t what I originally expected. I thought everyone who participated would be 4-H members. But that wasn’t the case; most of the kids I met weren’t 4-H members. Several parents received information about 4-H camp when their kids came home with the flier from school.
I thought most of the kids and parents attending the camp would be from rural communities. Again, that wasn’t the case. I met a group of Bismarck moms who had kids in Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts and were just looking for a different summer camp option for their kids. They didn’t know anything about 4-H. Dads with daughters, dads with sons, moms with sons, moms and dads with kids—various types of people with varied interests.
Because they didn’t know anything about 4-H, I became a resource to them. Me, the non 4-H member as a kid and leader who is still learning, fielded questions about 4-H programs, shooting sports, meetings and county and state fairs.
There is an advocacy lesson in my first 4-H camp experience: You don’t have to be an expert to share your experiences. Don’t shy away from meeting new people and opportunities to engage in conversations on subjects that might make you uncomfortable at first. Experiences teach more than words.
I could have only stayed closed to my friend Teresa while at camp, but I would have missed opportunities to connect to “city parents” who have never been to a small town or farm. By the way, my jaw dropped when I met a mom who lives in Bismarck who said she didn’t know anyone in North Dakota who lives in a small town or on a farm.Our sparsely populated state is shifting. Those who call rural our home are rare. 4-H is an organization that can bridge the gap—a way to connect those who live in rural communities and on farms with those who live in the city. Thanks to opportunities such as 4-H Clover camp, I think there will be an uptick in 4-H membership this year from new families who realize the value and lessons available for any kid with any interests through 4-H.September kicks off a new 4-H year. Clubs will be hosting meetings. You can find your local 4-H club via a simple Google search or by calling your county Extension office. Next summer, you can plan to visit a 4-H camp with your kids. Elizabeth says one of the best parts of the whole summer. I agree.(I won’t see these smiles again until later next week when I fly home. Love you kiddos!)