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Reader’s Report: This father, farmer and 4-H leader shares his concerns about the direction of the organization.

August 25, 2022

3 Min Read
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4-H TALENT ON DISPLAY: Vern Schafer believes 4-H members learn more when 4-H projects have rules and structure.Tom J. Bechman

A previous Hoosier Perspectives blog expressed concerns about a shift toward “guidelines, not rules” within the 4-H program. Vern Schafer, LaPorte County, Ind., penned this response:

Dear editor:

Mr. Bechman has been vocal about 4-H issues, and I feel compelled to add to his well-expressed feelings about the time-honored program that seems to be heading in a different direction than many of us generational 4-H’ers find acceptable.

Yes, we do not want to discourage anyone but try to give positive feedback. Everyone deserves an “Attaboy” once in a while.

On the other hand, remember the 4-H motto that my wife and I instill in our club members — “To make the best better.” It’s the reason every club member competes for 10 years. Even though they might have won their division or exhibited at the state fair, next year they try to top that effort. That competitive attitude will help them compete in life after 4-H and help them succeed in future endeavors.

We are a generational 4-H family. My wife has been foods superintendent, now “project coordinator” in LaPorte County for 20-plus years. Our family has been involved in the beef project since the late 1980s.

My daughter completed 10 years in foods, and her family is now the beneficiary of her success. Each year she baked a different food according to the “rules.” In muffins, for example, contestants’ muffins competed against other muffins. The judge would examine the texture and taste of each muffin and make comments in open judging to each contestant to test their knowledge. It seemed to be a great learning experience.

Each division was awarded a champion. That project was re-created for state fair.

Now without “rules and structure,” the project has evolved into a seemingly free-for-all with “guidelines” that allow each contestant in each division to bring any dish. How do you judge a pie against a muffin against a casserole in the same division?

This seems like showing beef steers, swine, rabbits and sheep in the same class. My point is this — in a world of “guidelines” and absence of “rules,” we have chaos. This is more disruptive and discourages healthy competition.

I, like Mr. Bechman, am skeptical of the results of replacing rules with guidelines. Life has rules and we must learn to operate within those rules to succeed. That has been the guiding light of 4-H. I see no reason to change the process that has built today’s and, hopefully, tomorrow’s leaders. Why do we need to fix something that isn’t broken?

Yes, as technology changes, we need new relevant projects. Our 4-H council is constantly looking. Our dedicated volunteers drive it. Most volunteers feel 4-H is still relevant, but we feel projects need structure and rules to make it fair to all participants.

We need to encourage and embrace change as it comes, but we need to look to the past to remember what got us here in the first place. My grandsons are our fourth generation of 4-H. Our family is excited to begin a new chapter. We will continue to support it in any way we can.

I tell my club members we want to have fun with projects and club meetings. We still give demonstrations at each meeting. It’s amazing to see shy kids develop confidence over their years in 4-H. I tell them they might accidentally learn something in the process.

Vern Schafer,
LaCrosse, Ind.

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