2022 Ag Pride: Looking up as we learn

Photos by Tamara Choat

My earliest memory of 4-H was when I was around 4 years old, sitting with my older cousin, Andrea, on top of an old boxcar grain bin above the pen of replacement heifers as she taught me how to “livestock judge.” I may not have ever excelled at the practice, but from that day on I was hooked. Because the big kids showed me how.  

My second earliest memory was the night of my sister’s first 4-H year Achievement Night program. The Busy Bees 4-H Club was performing a skit to “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” and my sister got to wear a white sheet and ride a stick horse on stage. I, not old enough to be in 4-H yet, did not. The injustice was grueling, and if I remember, I let everyone know by throwing myself on the guest room bed at my grandma’s house while my parents were trying to get four kids ready and out the door. It was far from endearing, but I remember desperately wanting to do what the big kids were doing. 

And I’ll never forget my first FFA meeting when a senior boy nominated me – a mere freshman! – to attend the state FFA convention as a delegate, not realizing the impact he was making on my future in the organization … and in life.  

And as my kids are entering their beginning 4-H years and my husband and I help lead an energetic young club in our county, I realize the feelings I had of watching the big kids and wanting to be involved aren’t any different for today’s kids. They are watching the older members, they are looking up, they can’t wait to be involved.  

I also realize that – as much as I wish I did – I definitely do not have this parenting thing figured out (including what to do with kids throwing themselves on beds). We start off the journey so optimistic, and then … find out we don’t have all the answers. But even as I continue to learn, there are three things I will stand by strongly, which I am convinced contribute to raising good human beings. 

  1. Just add water. If a child is fussy or upset – give them a drink, put them in the bath, send them outside to play with the garden hose, let them wade in a puddle, or “wash” dishes. Just add water. It works.   
  1. Give them a job. It’s human nature to want to be a part of things, to be important, to do, create, produce, excel. Don’t give kids things, give them the pride of doing something on their own. Let them open the gate, let them put their clothes away, let them make a drawing to enter in the fair. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” 
  1. Let them learn from someone else. I hope I can always be a voice of wisdom to my kids when needed, but any chance I get to let them learn from someone else, I do my best to step back and let it happen. In particular, older kids or young adults are able to speak volumes to my kids, compared to the drone of Mommy-directives.  

And as the last of the snow melts off and the mud dries from the “second winter” that hit our country in April, my family is finding ourselves full-on in spring work mode and getting rolling with 4-H projects. The storm left a bum calf that our son, 8, has taken full charge of. He’s out the door before his dad and I to bottle it, and then again after school without being asked. Our oldest daughter, 10, just got her two market hogs – a first for her. She has anticipated their arrival all year by building a pig pen with her dad and making a comparison chart to determine the very best names for them. Our 4-year-old informs everyone she sees that she is taking a goat and a calf to the fair. Right now she has neither, but I’m guessing by fair time she will have a few head of livestock in her open class exhibition show string. 

As we dive into these projects and farm and feedlot work head first, I continue to be grateful for the blessings of raising kids in agriculture, and for 4-H projects where they can learn from others, have a job, and more often than not – get wet and wild. I hope their futures include the opportunity to be involved in a strong FFA program, like my husband and I were. In my mind, these two youth programs are synonymous, compatible, and both irreplaceable in so many ways. 

The kids and activities that I looked up to and impatiently waited to be a part of as a child are now the same pursuits that my children get to be a part of. They see the fun – they don’t notice the shaping, the molding, the learning. 

They are gaining clearer thinking, greater loyalty, larger service and better living.  

They are learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, and living to serve. 

They are looking up, and I’m looking ahead.