What a great year this has been, in so very many ways. Each season has had its wonders and joys, from the warm fires of winter through the floral displays of summer and fall. A fresh group of young people came into 4-H this year, reenergizing us with their enthusiasm and their excitement over new ideas and new experiences.
It’s been a great year for Alabama 4-H. Our organization has continued to grow and prosper, developing innovative programs responding to the changing needs and interests of Alabama’s young people. Last year, Alabama 4-H Club membership increased to 65,135, up 11.2 percent from the previous year. Membership in community-based, volunteer-led clubs was up 23 percent, and project club membership was up 38 percent. Volunteer commitment, the future direction of 4-H in Alabama, nearly tripled. The time given by parents and volunteers was comparable to our adding 30 new entry-level 4-H staff positions.
And it was our Centennial Year – a time to celebrate the great things 4-H young people have done in Alabama for 100 years. Communities all over our state had special events recognizing the impact of "Head, Hands, Heart and Health" on their families and children. We have made a difference in young lives for generations now, and we will continue to make a positive difference for many years to come.
It’s often said "there is no new thing under the sun." We certainly see that in 4-H. For those who remember 4-H history, we can look back to the corn clubs and tomato clubs that once helped put food on Alabama’s tables by introducing "scientific agriculture" to our small, family farms. Rarely have those old skills been so warmly received as they are now. Through the Junior Master Gardener Program, fresh vegetables make their way to family dinner tables and to community food banks. Young people learn the important sciences of agronomy and agriculture, and the patience and commitment required of a good gardener or farmer.
In Alabama, we now see many current and former 4-Hers participating in things like Community Supported Agriculture, offering fresh, locally-grown produce in every corner of our state. Reports suggest Alabama’s CSAs will be providing some outstanding winter squash, sweet potatoes and greens throughout this holiday season. Entrepreneurial 4-H alumni are also successfully reviving such wonderful arts as cheese-making and the milling and marketing of specialty grains. In many areas of our state, it’s now possible to put together a complete Christmas dinner with materials from "right in our own backyard." If your holiday table doesn’t include an Alabama-grown turkey or Alabama shrimp, you are missing a special treat!
Another of our "new" programs also looks warmly to our past successes. The "4-H Practical Production Heifer Project" in Sumter County is designed to increase the interest of youth in the world around them and to give families an opportunity to work together. It is a practical project where parents and grandparents can involve children and grandchildren in cattle and land management.
To those many Alabamians whose childhoods included wandering through woods and pastures, it’s shocking to realize how many members of the current generation no longer have the opportunity to wade in the creek, catch frogs or hear an owl calling in the night. That is one of the reasons our 4-H Center and Coosa River Science School are so popular with school groups and summer campers. The traditional connection with forest and river are at the heart of the Alabama experience, linking us to the world around us and to our place in the universe.
Yes, the world is changing. Technology and a global society offer grand new opportunities for Alabama’s young people. But the values which 4-H teaches remain timeless.
Amy Payne Burgess is a 4-H Regional Extension Agent in Northeast Alabama. She may be reached at burgeap@ auburn.edu.