January 2009
4-H Extension Corner

A Hundred Years Old – and Looking Marvelous!


These farm lads were learning that science-based agriculture can make a difference in the quality of life.

When somebody turns 100, it’s not often you can say they are "healthy, strong and vibrant." Well, Alabama 4-H is celebrating its first century, and it’s full of vim, vigor and vitality. Probably "being around young people" is the key to keeping us young. And to anyone who monitors the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of Alabama’s youth, you may realize we need all the health and energy we can muster!

Let’s look at the history we are celebrating. Alabama 4-H began in 1908, when boys’ corn clubs were formed in Calhoun and Tuscaloosa County. These clubs were a strategy by the USDA to have kids show-up adults by using new, scientific techniques to grow bigger and better corn crops. In those days, Alabama was blessed to have some true giants of modern agriculture, men like Seaman Knapp, George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington. You’ll certain win on Jeopardy if you know Thomas Campbell, America’s first Extension agent, was a Tuskegee man!


These young 4-H ladies were in high style, showing off their 4-H project fashions in the 1920s.


So we grew and evolved: tomato clubs, home demonstration clubs, peanut clubs, pig and calf clubs. Young people helped put food on Alabama tables; they brought in modern farming and hygienic living; they even played an important role on the home front in World War I. By the era of World War II, Alabama’s 4-H clubs had become a world-wide model for modern democracy, a fact that has become the subject of serious academic research. Our use of parliamentary procedure for deliberation and debate was a conscious counterpoint to Hitler Youth and to the Soviet’s Young Pioneers.


Today, guys  and girls  in Alabama 4-H may be involved in learning about robotics and rocketry.

We are proud 4-H "responds to the changing needs and interests of Alabama’s young people." While most of us mourn the passing of rural and small-town life, we fully recognize Alabama kids no longer live in Mayberry or up on Walton’s Mountain. Our young people will be competing in a world economy against the young people of Beijing and the best and brightest students of Silicon Valley. We often say 4-H seeks to "prepare young people for their future, not our past." We do that through building Belonging, Independence, Generosity, and Mastery – our "BIG M."

But we do honor those who have led us to where we are today. I would encourage you to visit our web site at www.alabama4h.com. You may be especially interested in the events taking place as part of our Alabama 4-H Centennial. April 20 - 24 is 4-H Centennial Blitz Week with a goal of every Alabama county doing something special to celebrate the heritage and future of Alabama 4-H.


Although the basics of “Head, Heart, Hands and Health” remain, you may notice significant changes in some 4-H programs


I would also encourage you to follow the links to the Alabama 4-H Wall of Fame. The Wall of Fame recognizes individuals and businesses that have had an impact on 4-H in our state. Perhaps you know of a 4-H volunteer or county staff member who has had an impact on you or the young people of your community. He or she might be just the person we may wish to add to the Alabama 4-H Wall of Fame!

Amy Payne Burgess is a 4-H Regional Extension Agent for DeKalb, Marshall and Cherokee Counties.