Old saying must be worn out
By Trent Loos
I am fairly confident that whether you are in livestock production or not, if you are reading this and I ask you about what image comes to your mind when you think of 4-H, it involves a kid and a calf, a pig or a lamb. I'm not trying to imply that is all that 4-H amounts to, but in our part of the world, that would be the general image. That is not the case with the next generation of leaders in 4-H who I met last week at the National Collegiate 4-H conference at the University of Missouri.
I was granted the opportunity to speak to this group of 70 people from 11 states. They were between 18 and 26 years old and all involved in 4-H leadership in some way.
First off, I want to recognize Taylor Bryant and Morgan Beach organizing and making this event such a tremendous success. I now understand that Bryant had a specific reason for inviting me to present to this group of young leaders in 4-H.
Before I go into what took place last Saturday evening, let me remind you about April 2010 when much of farm country was taken aback that the Humane Society of the United States was invited to present their views on the future of animal agriculture at a National 4-H event held in Washington, D.C. If you remember, we did not take kindly to that. Having met the next generation of leaders, I now understand how that happened.
In the middle of my presentation I actually said, "I really don't care if people choose to be vegetarians. I just want to make sure they make that choice based on the truth rather than some negative rhetoric from a website." One young lady from Florida raised her hand and said she was a vegetarian. As a result, a very respectful and constructive conversation ensued and it was good.
After the presentation, I had a nice visit with her and I thanked her for being up-front as it led to a very good discussion. She told me that her agenda and basis for working in the state 4-H office in Florida was to move 4-H away from agriculture. That certainly caught my ear.
Since the conference, there has been some fiery chatter on Facebook that is quite telling. I will have to say that this comment from one of the participants was not posted about my presentation, as I did not use the word "wacko," but I was part of the program.
"Do not have all ag-centered speakers and themes. Most of the West Virginian delegation have not raised an animal and are not ag majors. Mix it up--4-H is a leadership and service organization, do more of that. Also, try to get speakers that aren't biased. It was very unprofessional to call vegans 'wacko'--we are all adults and can discuss things in an educated manner like 4-H teaches us to."
Now let me make a couple of things very clear. First, this thought process did not represent the entire group but probably did reflect the status of half of them. Second, the young leaders in attendance do not currently represent the views of national 4-H but are certainly attempting to position themselves to work into that role.
My point, friends, is that the culture around us is changing every single day. I embrace changes in the 4-H program, and diversity can be a good thing if it serves a common purpose. What is not acceptable is when we just sit back on our horse or in our GPS-guided tractor and say, "Man, 4-H is not what it used to be."
True, 4-H is not primarily livestock projects anymore but all 4-Hers need to be aware of the life-sustaining importance of our industry. We don't just provide project animals; agriculture is the source of the fuel for their small engine projects, the fiber for their clothing and home interiors projects and the basis for all of the new environmental science and wildlife projects.
4-H will always be, like everything else in this world today, ruled by those who show up, as the saying goes. Are you willing to show up? Almost every county in the country offers a 4-H program, and 99.5 percent of them are in need of volunteers. Step up and share your talents and your passions or HSUS will be sending in their people to lead these youngsters into the future.
Editor's note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.