Farm Progress

Carrie’s Column: 4-H provides so much more than ribbons and trophies.

July 20, 2017

5 Min Read
4-H FOR LIFE: A collection of 4-H awards from the 1980s was discovered in a closet. Although the ribbons have faded, the 4-H values obtained from the organization remain present in daily life and last a lifetime on a farm.

By Carrie Ann Tomko

I was recently cleaning out a closet and stumbled across a small collection of 4-H ribbons and trophies awarded decades ago at a time when I regularly sewed and pursued home economic projects. The ribbons have faded and the clothing I had sewn is long gone, but the 4-H’s of Head, Heart, Hands and Health are pronounced daily in my agricultural life.

With it being county fair season, I reflected on that trusty 4-H pledge upon finding my past treasure of 4-H awards and discovered that the organization’s meaning remains with me.

The organization’s pledge, which is still memorized decades after I spoke it last, goes like this, “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service
and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world. I witness the four H’s daily on my farm.

• Head. Starting with the first H of “head for clearer thinking,” there’s no doubt that farming requires a clear head. It’s clear that some individuals outside of agriculture imagine that farmers simply drive tractors in circles in a field, plant seeds and harvest … end of story. People outside of farming do not always realize that farming is a business, requiring hard work, strategy and profit-loss accounting.

This simplistic depiction of a farm was portrayed recently by a naïve gal that visited my farm to pick up an item for sale. When she pulled into the farm and saw small square bales of hay being unloaded into the hay loft and cattle being fed round bales, she commented, “Oh how cute! This is like a real working farm.”

I wanted to say, “It sure is a real farm,” but I dared not share my response. Today and every day, it sure feels like real work, making hay and feeding cattle, not to mention hauling manure, as they are mandatory events on a cattle farming business.

Often, the general population admires people with a good head on their shoulders. They will state that someone has a “head for business.” But when doing so, they might be solely referring to corporate America. Like other businesses, however, farming requires clear thinking, and not only when operating machinery for safety. A head for clear thinking is needed when buying livestock and land, as well as investing in new equipment. A clear head in big dollar investments is a must in farming.  

• Heart. Speaking of investing in livestock, land and equipment, this segues nicely into the second H, which is “heart for greater loyalty.” Consider the loyalty that goes into the investment in land and equipment. A farmer does not buy land and equipment today and sell tomorrow. He must be a good life-long steward to his investments. Surely, loyalty is in the form of dollar signs that are sunk into the farm business and the required non-liquid assets. A farmer gives his heart and his “left arm” to make payments. Loyalty to those payments is required.

Same can be said for a farmer’s capital investments. And might I add, with farming as not only an occupation, but also a lifestyle, it takes a heart of passion to push on during trying times.

Think of the loyalty a farmer dedicates to livestock. Unconditionally, livestock are cared for daily, making their food, feeding them and cleaning manure thereafter. That loyalty is extended during inclement weather and at inconvenient times. The business of farming requires loyalty of land, equipment and livestock. A heart of loyalty is a must.

• Hands. The next H of “hands for larger service” is the one H that most outside of agriculture would relate. Farmers get their hands dirty. It might be from turning a wrench on a bolt that needed oil for encouragement or from fixing the manure spreader that broke down in the field.

But remember that those same dirty hands are also the same tender hands that carefully handle a newborn calf. Those same farm hands wrap around another farmer when a prized heifer dies unexpectedly. Hands for larger service, of the hard and soft nature, are a must. Farmers’ hands serve the larger community by feeding the nation and the world.

• Health. I suppose the final H of “health for better living” is no accident being the last H on the list. First of all, health insurance may be last on a farmer’s list when dividing up cash flow because it’s not easily available, nor is it inexpensive. I personally know many farmers that cannot afford the cost of health insurance. Note the irony — farming is among the top three most dangerous occupations in the U.S. 

Secondly, health may be last of the H’s for another reason. Seemingly, the longer one lives life, the more the notion of good health tends to be appreciated. Also, I find that health is more noticed on the farm. For example, poor health, like a pulled muscle, can be detrimental to stacking hay bales. But sometimes, good health can be admired, when witnessing a farmer in the field that still is driving a tractor at the age of 80 and beyond.

Really, what can be accomplished on a farm without the four H’s? The four H’s are pronounced daily in a life of agriculture. While my participation in the organization only lasted four years, the values instilled carry me through life daily.

Tomko writes from Rittman.







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