In honor of National 4-H Week (Oct. 4-10, 2015), here’s at just a few things that make 4-H a great experience for kids (and adults)!
As a third generation 4-Her and an active member from age 8 – 18, I could probably come up with a lot longer list, but here’s five:
- Not your father’s (or grandfather’s) 4-H – As a 100 year old organization, 4-H has a great heritage with roots in rural communities and a strong connection to agriculture. But, 4-H is not just for ‘farm kids.’ You can find 4-H clubs in the heart of urban communities like Chicago and New York City. Plus the learning opportunities extend way beyond the traditional cooking, sewing & showing livestock. Those projects are still available, but today’s 4-Hers can also build model rockets, explore entomology, create all kinds of artwork and much more.
- Hands-on Learning – One of the great things about 4-H is the project-based learning that builds knowledge and skills. With more than 45 project areas, there’s quite a bit of variety to choose from. Each area has levels to continuing building your skills from one year to the next. For example, my first year 4-H cooking project was marshmallow crispy rice treats and by my final year in 4-H, I was baking yeast breads and canning tomatoes.
- Community Involvement – 4-H members are organized into clubs – sometimes based on shared interest (like sewing or horses), but often based on geography. Clubs are not segregated by age – which means younger kids interact with (and learn from) older kids. Clubs are also encouraged to do service projects and 4-H members learn about the value of giving back to their communities. Check out one local club that runs a food pantry, clothing exchange & community garden.
- Leadership – 4-H clubs are supervised and guided by adult volunteers, but the leadership is provided by members themselves. Serving as a club president, secretary, volunteer chair or any number of other positions (varies by club) helps youth develop confidence and invaluable leadership experience. 4-H members also have to present a talk or demonstration about one of their projects to their club every year, which provides great practice with public speaking.
- Learning How to Fail – The culmination and highlight of the 4-H year is the 4-H show, usually held at a county fair. The project areas are judged by adults with expertise in the area. The 4-H member has to talk to the judge, explain their project and answer questions during conference judging (another great learning experience). Projects are awarded blue, red or white ribbons based on how well the project was completed. No one wants a red or white ribbon, but I can say from experience the projects that fail or didn’t quite go as planned are ones that teach you the most.
To learn more about 4-H clubs, check with your local Extension office. You can find the Livingtson, McLean & Woodford Counties Extension Unit here.
Are you a current or former 4-H member? What would you add to the list?
As you may have noticed by the waves of amber grain disappearing from farm fields, corn and soybean harvest is rolling in full force. For farmers, harvest brings the culmination of a full year’s worth of work and then some in planning, selecting, planting & caring for their crops.
For this week’s Friday Five, I though maybe we should take a look at five things harvest means on the farm:
- Long hours & hard work! Harvest is a time-sensitive task and when it’s time to go, farmers are usually in the fields from sun-up to sundown or longer as long as a) the weather’s fit b) the crop conditions are right and c) the equipment cooperates. If you have friends or family who farm, you may notice they completely disappear from social events for a couple of months in the fall, as described by this chart from Illinois Corn Growers.
- Meals in the Fields: Farmers may not stop for lunch or dinner during harvest (see above), so meals are often delivered to the fields. Take a look at some creative and delicious ways farm families stay fed during harvest with ‘How to Feed a Farmer’ posted on the Watch Us Grow blog and ‘Field Meals to Go’ from Katie Pratt’s Rural Route 2 Blog.
- Technology & equipment: Today’s family farmers harvest data, not just crops. Sophisticated computer and GPS technology give farmers a wealth of information to make decisions and adjustments for next year. Take a closer look inside a combine with these photos from the blog Daddy’s tractor and get a glimpse of the bits and bytes of precision farm data in this article from Business Insider. Or if you want to watch harvest in real time, check out this opportunity to watch it on Periscope!
- Danger: Farming is a dangerous occupation and harvest carries many hazards. Big machinery with lots of moving parts, dry corn stalks that can catch fire from a spark and even fatigue from the long hours can lead to accidents. Do your part to help keep farmers (and yourself) safe! Slow down & pass with caution when you meet equipment on the road. Check out this advice from blogger Celeste Harned for more tips to stay safe.
- Helping Hands: Farmers are a close-knit community. Every year I see at least one story about farmers coming together to harvest crops for a neighbor in need. This week I saw three: One right here in McLean County, one near Champaign and another over by Galva, Illinois.
To see more, search & follow #harvest15 on Facebook or Twitter.
What does harvest mean to you?
We’ve probably all done it. Forgotten something in the back of the refrigerator and then had to deal with the stinky, rotten or moldy consequences.
As Americans we’re also pretty bad at throwing away ‘good’ food, too – items that would be safe to eat but end up in the garbage can for whatever reason. In fact, the USDA estimates we throw away 133 billion pounds of edible food every year at a cost of $370 per person.
Food waste has environmental costs, too – both in terms of wasted production and emissions from food waste in landfills. To get a grip on the food garbage problem and ways to combat it, take a look at our fresh picked tidbits for this week’s Friday Five:
- For starters, ‘Let’s Talk Trash’ from USDA helps put the problem in perspective with a few numbers & pictures. The 90 billion pounds depicted here is a little less than the 133 billion reported elsewhere, but that may be because it can be difficult to get an accurate count (see #3)
- Last week, USDA & EPA announced plans to cut food waste 50% by 2030, as reported by the Washington Times.
- For a deeper look at the food waste numbers and the challenge of tackling the problem, check out this article from Wall Street Journal.
- Perhaps the U.S. needs to takes some cues from Denmark, which is leading the way in reducing food waste, as reported by NPR’s The Salt.
- And for a few ways to get you started in curbing food waste in your own kitchen, check out these 10 Tips to use food you might consider tossing, also from NPR’s The Salt.
What can you do to reduce food waste?
When it comes to food, many of us (myself included) have a tendency to take for granted all the choices we have available and the convenience of easily accessible ingredients.
Here’s a few tidbits fresh picked for this week’s Friday five that help highlight some of the marvels of our modern food system and some areas that you might not think about:
- What does it really take to make a sandwich from scratch? Try 6 months and $1,500! Check out this video series from How to Make Everything for a look at one man’s quest to grow and source the raw ingredients for a sandwich truly made from scratch.
- Transportation is an essential part of our food system, but not one most of us think about very often. Take a look at a few of the folks who haul food for a living in this article from NPR’s The Salt.
- Have you seen headlines about recently about a shortage of eggs? Or perhaps pumpkins? While things like avian flu and weather can cause supply issues (and maybe price increases), check out this perspective about how most of the ‘shortages’ we see in the United States tend to be overplayed, in an article from TIME.
- On the flip side, there are real differences in the cost of food in different areas of the country. A report on food costs called Map the Meal Gap 2015 from Feeding America shows differences in meal costs correlates with low-income and food-insecure families, as reported on MarketWatch.
- Even in today’s era of mechanized and computerized agriculture equipment, many fruit and vegetable crops are still harvested by hand. Here’s a look at a few of the more labor intensive crops in this article, also from NPR’s The Salt.
To meet some of the farmers who grow your food, check out www.watchusgrow.org
What do you appreciate most about your food supply?
Looking for the perfect pumpkin for your front step? Or maybe some mums to fill out your fall flower bed? Central Illinois has plenty to offer!
After all, when it comes to pumpkins – Illinois is the cream of the crop! Illinois farmers grow 80-85% of the world’s supply of processing pumpkins (used to make canned pumpkin puree & pie filling) and the majority of those are grown right here in the central part of the state.
Check out a few upcoming opportunities to visit the country, experience a little taste of agriculture and maybe pick up a pumpkin:
- Explore local farm history with the 2015 McLean County Barn Tour Sat., Sept. 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. featuring interesting barns, antique farm equipment and more. The self-guided tour and begins at the Chenoa United Methodist Church and is sponsored by McLean County Barn Keepers.
- Rader Family Farms opens this weekend (Sept. 12). Located just west of Normal (look for the pumpkin topped silo), Rader’s offers plenty of pumpkins, a corn maze, kid-friendly activities, food & special events throughout the season.
- Also this weekend, you can head south for the Route 10 Farm Crawl Sun., Sept. 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with activities at Mariah’s Mums & More, Timberview Alpaca Farm & Wagon Wheel Pumpkin Farm near Clinton, Illinois.
- For more pumpkin treats and festival fun, head to the Pumpkin Capital of the World for the Morton Pumpkin Festival Sept. 16-19, 2015. Sample the savory and the sweet with everything from pumpkin chili to pumpkin donuts & ice cream.
- And if apples are what you’re after, check out Country Mist Apple Farm near Heyworth, Curtis Orchard near Champaign or Tanner’s Orchard north of Peoria.
Just remember when you venture out into the country, watch out for farm equipment! Harvest is just beginning for corn & soybeans, so be alert for slow moving vehicles on the roads. Slow down, pass with caution & be safe!
What are your favorite ways to celebrate Fall?