I don't like to admit it, but I missed the Minnesota State Fair this year. I had relatives visiting on and off during fair time and expected they'd want to go, so I held off. We never went.
I always enjoy every aspect of the fair, from corn dogs to livestock barns. I don't frequent the Midway much anymore.
But what I really missed was seeing those cheerful 4-H kids, despite those hot and sticky livestock barns. They're sprawled out over straw bales, quietly excited, waiting to show their animals. They don't care about the heat index. In fact, there's just enough nervous energy there to help me remember my 4-H days — the smells, the noise and the manure shoveling.
For young kids around the country, those 4-H days could be coming to an end if budget cuts truly decimate Extension's support of 4-H programs.
In Minnesota, for example, 4-H programs are in trouble, according to State Representative Al Juhnke of Willmar. Four-H lost $850,000 in budget monies last year.
In addition, most of Minnesota County Extension Service's agents will be gone. The newly restructured system will only have 18 regional extension educators coordinating the work of volunteers. And, there will be only as many paid county 4-H staff members as the state's 87 county boards of commissioners can afford.
Other states, such as Nebraska, are getting hit hard with federal and state cuts, too. Some open county educator positions have been eliminated, says Gail Brand, home economist at Seward, NE. “Four-H is a dynamic program and I don't think it will ever completely die, but because of the economy we'll have to look for more funding avenues,” she says.
Unlike 10-20 years ago when sewing and cooking classes were part of her job, she now teaches parenting, nutrition/health and community development classes.
For many in rural America, 4-H remains a tradition and training ground for tomorrow's farmers and ag business professionals. Losing funding that supports youth development programs could be devastating to agriculture's future.
From a big picture perspective, corn and soybean associations are now making livestock producers a priority on their agendas. U.S. livestock are fed a majority of the crops you grow and associations are now formally acknowledging that.
So, those kids scurrying around the livestock barns at state fairs today could well be the producers purchasing your grain tomorrow.
Let your state congressmen and county boards know how important 4-H is to the community. If it's not funded by government monies, you'll likely be asked to pony up the dollars needed to keep programs working, similar to how parents are now asked to help fund school sports programs.
Make your voice heard.
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