I read your recent article in the Indiana Prairie Farmer on the future of 4-H. Whew! I’m sure glad I’m not the only one in Indiana concerned about the declining enrollments.
I was a 10-year 4-H member from 1957 through 1966. All four of our children were 10-year members, along with our five oldest grandchildren. Hopefully, the rest of our grandchildren will follow suit. I was excited to meet with the Purdue [University] Club during my freshman year at college. I’ve been a 4-H leader for 52 years. I’ve served on our county 4-H board, our Extension board and P-CARET, so I pretty well know all facets of 4-H. My husband says that I “bleed green.”
Over the years I assumed Purdue would be in the business of 4-H forever. I’ll never forget the year our Extension office had to start paying for [4-H] books. Then after a few years, our county had to start charging 4-H members a fee to join.
Several years ago Purdue started redoing project books. Purdue said every project had to be educational. Well, hello! 4-H was educational back in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, but members weren’t told so, we just thought it was fun. We filled out record books and sheets for all of our projects.
[The record books] included costs for making food, clothing, gardening, arts and crafts, crops and animal projects. This would show parents how much money was involved in completing these projects. Also, we learned finances, writing, creating and how to get a project finished on time for the fair.
When Purdue told the children how educational 4-H was and that they needed to complete three sections [in books] on each project, the 4-H’ers balked and said this isn’t school. The enrollment went down. Could Purdue fund 4-H in Indiana forever? No, I’m sure it was getting quite costly.
Computerized enrollment and entries — don’t get me started. I’m not sure that I can speak about those two items without really getting steamed. I know that my age tells it, but I had two families over the years that could never get enrolled because the system failed when they logged on. They finally went to the Extension office to get this accomplished.
We’ve had an Extension agent that wasn’t familiar with 4-H and had a degree in [public relations]. She made it but it was difficult for a while. Should all Extension agents graduate from the Purdue Extension program? I’m sure that is a thing of the past. There are also struggles on entering things at the fair.
Will 4-H come full circle and start back with basics? I doubt it. Do I have the answers? No, I do not, but like you, I worry about such a good thing going down the tubes. … I certainly hope the Indiana 4-H program is still around for my great-grandchildren.
Marcia Reising, Gibson County, Ind.