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National 4-H Conference Focuses on Today's Changing World

Jennifer Martin, CSREES Staff, (202) 720-8188

WASHINGTON, April 17, 2007 – Youth today live in a much different world from the one their parents remember as children. Between new technologies and a changing society, youth face many different experiences that will shape them into adulthood.

A growing number of 4-H members come from urban areas with broader interests. The 2007 National 4-H Conference explored the differences in today's society and their affect on 4-H goals and activities.

This year's theme, “Our Changing World,” reflected the question, “As the world changes, how do we enhance 4-H to ensure it remains significant and relevant for today's youth?” New for this year, the conference featured citizenship excursions. These excursions featured roundtable discussions and dynamic town hall meetings that led to these recommendations presented by Cathann Kress, director of youth development at USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), on behalf of the 4-H delegates to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and other 4-H and USDA officials:

  • engage more urban youth so they better understand the importance of agriculture, conservation, science and technology and their impact on the quality of life in urban communities;
  • develop more programs that focus on the unique needs of older youth as they go through high school and plan for future careers;
  • create more national opportunities to engage with other 4-H members;
  • do a better job of telling the story of 4-H;
  • update processes, policies and delivery methods that fit today's world – so as today's youth step into the future, 4-H goes with them; and
  • continue to invest and allocate funds to develop new project areas and deliver the latest technologies to youth at the local level.

Johanns accepted the recommendations during the USDA Assembly and promised to give them careful consideration. He compared the 4-H conference to the recently held Farm Bill Forums in which the secretary and other USDA officials traveled the nation to listen to citizens ideas and engage people in talking about changes in agriculture.

Each forum across the country began with 4-H or FFA members bringing their concerns about the future of agriculture to the table. An overwhelming majority wondered if they could be a part of agriculture in the future due to the hardships faced when trying to get started.

Johanns said USDA has a chance with the 2007 farm bill proposals to make a difference. Among those proposals are initiatives to help beginning farmers get started financially. He said the new proposals will build a solid foundation for a new generation.

Gale Buchanan, USDA under secretary for Research, Education and Economics, said 4-H is changing along with the world by adding new program areas for students living in urban settings and taking on issues that are important to society, such as the environment.

Johanns, a former 4-H member from Iowa, said that even though the world today is a different enterprise, the core values he learned in 4-H and the things youth learn today through 4-H hasn't changed. These values “give you a foundation for meeting head-on all that has changed in American agriculture,” he said.

Delegates also met with their legislators on Capitol Hill Day to represent youth from their states and discuss state 4-H programs with congressional members and their staffs.

Ten 1890 and 1994 land-grant colleges and universities received scholarships to send youth and adult delegates to the conference. Scholarship recipients included Alcorn State University, Crownpoint Institute of Technology, Delaware State University, Langston University, Lincoln University, North Carolina A&T State University, Prairie View A&M University, Southern University and A&M College, Tuskegee University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. The 77th National 4-H Conference was the first conference attended by a 1994 tribal land-grant university (Crownpoint Institute of Technology) delegation. The Farm Credit System Foundation, Inc., and Fleischmann's Yeast funded the scholarships through donations secured by National 4-H Council, 4-H's private partner.

Since the first conference in 1927, the National 4-H Conference, known as the “Secretary's Conference,” continues to be USDA's premier youth development opportunity to engage youth in developing recommendations for the 4-H Youth Development Program. 

The National 4-H Conference is an avenue to help youth develop recommendations to guide 4-H programs nationally and in their communities. As the sponsor for this conference, the National 4-H Headquarters seeks to promote positive youth development, facilitate learning, and engage youth in the work of the land-grant universities and USDA to enhance their quality of life. For more information, visit http://www.national4-hheadquarters.gov.