Forrest Pritchard is a full-time sustainable farmer and New York Times bestselling author, holding a BA in English and a BS in Geology from William & Mary. Smith Meadows, his farm, was one of the first “grass finished” operations in the country, and has sold at leading farmers’ markets in Washington DC for nearly two decades. Pritchard's first two books received starred reviews from The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and NPR, and his latest book is set to debut in 2018.

26 responses to “Does 4-H Matter Now More Than Ever?”

  1. Shawn Morgan

    Fabulous blog, but Is there such a thing as a “past 4-Her”? No way could any of us be separated from all those wonderful lessons we’ve learned from the program (and continue to learn if we’ve remained involved as adult volunteers)! 4-H is the best youth development program — bar none — for farmers and non-farmers alike. You identify all the wonderful reasons why. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Amy Oates Ranel

    Excellent blog. I will always consider myself a 4-H’er no matter the age. The lessons learned can never be replaced. Or the friendships that many of us developed with one another over the years. I can only hope that my kids growing up in Georgia be offered the same fulfilling experience. May God bless 4-H

  3. Doris

    Forrest, I read this and my heart began pounding harder and harder. I could see many of those young 4-H’ers you talk about standing in front of their peers demonstrating a part of their project for the year. I saw those members honing skills growing richer each year. Thanks Forrest for posting a wonderful article.

  4. Tiffany F

    Awesome Forrest! I think the lessons that stick me the most from 4-H are leadership, responsibility, and compassion. What more can you ask to learn from a youth organization? I loved the article and completely agree.

  5. Kiya Tabb

    As a former 4-H Extension Agent, I can say that I agree the program needs a good revival and the time is ripe for it to make a comeback. 4-H has the potential to fill a void in the lives of agricultural youth as well. While FFA is a great program, it does focus more on industrialized agriculture. 4-H does not seem to have that slant – yet. It’s still more of a “raise a pig in the backyard” type of program. The question that lingers is where the funding will come from. Extension programs, including 4-H, are a product of land-grant universities… many who receive major funding from industrialized agriculture giants. Between that and budget cuts, Extension is in dire jeopardy across the country. We could possibly see the 4-H program move to a volunteer-based organization, but it remains to be known whether or not it would survive change to a totally unfunded organization. I truly hope the program both grows and gets back to its agricultural roots a little bit.

    On a side note – 10% of farmers are now women? Way to go, ladies! Let’s keep that statistic climbing!

    Love your blog, Forrest. I know my husband does too. I look forward to meeting you!

  6. JulieAbel (@JulieAbel)

    Forest thanks so much for bringing awareness to 4-H. As you know, past 4-Hers don’t need to go into farming to take the skills they learned into adulthood with them. Everyday I draw on the things I learned in leadership through my time spent in the WV 4-H program. It molded me, made me who I am. And now as a mother who is working hard to provide healthy food options to my family, my experience in 4-H once again proves to not be wasted. Thanks again for writing this post. Beautiful!

  7. Melville Johnson

    Hey! Great post! I’m a native WV 4-H’er, and currently work for Maryland 4-H. i thought I’d take this opportunity to give a link to the MD 4-H website in case anyone who reads this may be interested in finding out more!

  8. Barbara Copenhaver Bailey

    Great article Forrest. I could never express what 4-H did for me in my life, and Jeff feels the same way. It helped us develop leadership, communication skills, citizenship, attitude of service, compassion towards & acceptance of others, to name a few. We are currently 4-H leaders and both of our boys are members and LOVE it. Congratulations & Good Luck.

  9. mommabear13

    What a coincidence! Just got a message from Michelle to please read your blog. I was recently asked by the Arts Council in my home county if I would be interested in teaching some cooking and/or sewing classes to kids in grades 2-5 during their break from school in February. I was pretty excited about this possibility and met with the director to discuss possible classes I could invent and teach. Immediately I thought “Wow, if I could only get my hands on some of those 4-H project books that my mother used when she and my dad were 4-H leaders. I would be all set with ideas for beginning sewing projects for this age group!” My parents had a 4-H club for many, many years and to this day I have people tell me that it was the 4-H experience that fostered many of the activities, hobbies and careers they participate in today. At age 13, I became a Junior Leader and began teaching 8 and 9 year olds many of the skills I learned from my mother and many other 4-H leaders involved in our club. My love of teaching, I believe, began back then. The best part of my story came just yesterday, when my brother who runs the farm I grew up on called and told me that they were getting reading to clean out the “office” room in the farm house, a room that has been closed since my mother died 13 years ago. He informed me that still in the file cabinets in that room are years and years of 4-H project guides that I thought had been discarded years ago. And his final words were “If there is anything in there you want, come and get it!” Guess what I am doing today?
    I couldn’t agree more with your post regarding the lifelong benefits of being part of a 4-H program. Hats off to all the 4-H leaders who continue to share their skills and knowledge with our youth!

  10. Michele Hale

    Great blog, Forrest!! I look at the members in my 4-H club and get a little bit teary-eyed. What they have to forward to is so exciting. The fun while learning and the experience that they will have in the future will be so rewarding. The friends that they will make will be their friends forever. I truly hope that each of them get as much out of 4-H as I did as a member and now as a leader! Learning by doing is a great educational tool! I use many techniques from 4-H public speaking and demonstrations in presentations that I give to the students in my school. How How!! to Forrest for reminding all of us of the great program that 4-H is!

  11. Michael Wilson

    Forrest, it seems that 4-H has become considerably more eclectic since the era around 1950 when I was a member! Projects, records, and presentations were part of the program then, and there was a county 4-H only show / fair every year. We also put on presentations in the public schools and for (if memory serves) civic organizations.

    Unfortunately, I fear that the increase in farm numbers is coming from corporate agri-business rather than the small farms with which we are familiar. 4-H may be one of the last organizations aimed at the smaller operations.

  12. D Jacobsen

    This is a great writeup on 4-H. I’m also an alumni. The lessons from 4-H have helped in all parts of my life, even tho I’m not on a farm at the moment (brother still is). One of the better activities in 4-H that you forgot to mention was the Junior Leadership role. After a few years in 4-H, members could be leaders also in selected project areas, helping to past on their knowledge while gaining the ability to teach and lead. Great part of the overall program.

  13. Mark Sturgell

    Great blog and one of the best, succinct descriptions of “The 4-H Experience” I’ve read. Most people connected to 4-H will say (I know, I’ve asked) it is difficult to express all the 4-H means and accomplishes, especially when compared to other youth development programs of any ilk. You express it very well.

    I always say “I went to my first 4-H meeting about 9 months before I was born” and it’s true. I’m now in my 50s and I’ve never stopped going to 4-H meetings as a 4-H alumnus, a leader, a volunteer and now as a board member for both state and local 4-H Foundations. (These foundations are key to ensuring we fill the growing funding gaps other commenters worry about.).

    Agriculture? No, that was my brother’s bag, but 4-H gave me a deep appreciation and understanding for farmers and agriculture, which is sorely missing from other educational venues. I don’t agree that 4-H needs a resurgence, because it has continued to surge in many areas. However, the most change is occurring with regard to its agricultural and self-sustainability roots. Two among several trends will likely strengthen 4-H as part of our national fabric, as long as 4-H leaders at every level recognize the opportunities available.

    Small farms and specialty farms is one trend that I believe will grow as long as 4-H leaders at the state and national levels don’t completely forget that agriculture is the perfect teaching context for science, engineering and technology. A sizable part of the population not only want to be more self-sustaining and eat organic and whole foods, they want specialty foods, wine, ornamental crop products, etc.

    Second, after a couple of decades of giving into the pressure of two-income consumer-families who purchase the fulfillment of every need from someone else, more couples have one spouse staying home. I hear men and women wanting to once again learn how to cook, sew, raise their own food, change their own oil, make their own decorations and generally “Learn By Doing” rather than “Get By Buying”.

    4-H and other Extension programs provide the perfect structure, process, expertise, environment and resources for meeting people’s needs as these trends continue to develop. And as boys and girls, men and women begin to, once again, learn about cooking, sewing and small engines, they also develop the personal leadership, citizenship and neighborliness that is the unique and ultimate product of the 4-H experience.

  14. Laura - Chronicles of Passion

    I love this. As a previous Canadian 4-H member (until I was too old to be a member anymore), I was fortunate to see first hand the value of 4-H. It taught me so many lessons and skills, qualities and values that I know I would never have been exposed to from any other source. I truly didn’t realize how valuable it was until later on when I actually had a reason to use those skills. Likewise, living on a farm, I think I was able to appreciate it more for its role I’m agriculture and agricultural education. I hope this all continues and people are able to continue to take advantage of a great program like this. Thanks for doing your part to share your experiences.

  15. Sam

    I actually only know about 4-H because of In Cold Blood, since the book is based in rural America. I never knew what the 4 H’s were though, this is a cool organization! My high school could really use one, the skills I could’ve garnered would have helped me out a lot now as a sustainable agriculture major!

  16. fifey73

    Great post. I’ve been meaning to sign my 3 boys up for 4-H for quite a while because of the many good things I’ve heard about it. I think the experiences they’ll have, the skills they’ll learn, and the friends they’ll make will enrich their lives exponentially.

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