Written by Kaitlyn Bernarde
As part of its commitment to be open, honest, and communicative about the topics Marathon County leadership and staff get comments and questions on the most, this month’s article in our “I’m Glad You Asked . . .” series features:
The Top-5 Questions People Ask About Marathon County 4-H
University of Wisconsin-Extension 4-H programs give young people opportunities to learn new skills, gain self-confidence, and contribute to their communities.
We have 30 4-H clubs sprinkled throughout Marathon County, with members ranging in age from Kindergarten through the year after high school.
Our clubs vary in size from 8 to 100 members!
Backed by the knowledge and research base of the University of Wisconsin, local 4-H educators design educational, leadership, and citizenship experiences for local youth.
Well, for starters, according this 4-H infographic, 4-H members are:
Adult volunteers facilitate 4-H programs in 30 neighborhood 4-H clubs throughout Marathon County. (If I’ve already piqued your interest in 4-H, you can learn about volunteering with Marathon County 4-H here.)
Read on for 5 common questions people ask about Marathon County’s 4-H program . . .
#1. What does “4-H” stand for?
The 4 H’s that form the basis of 4-H youth development programming are taken from the organization’s pledge, which asks members to pledge the following 4 things to their club, community, country, and world:
- HEAD: to clearer thinking
- HEART: to greater loyalty
- HANDS: to larger service
- HEALTH: to a better living
These 4 H’s are essential to quality 4-H programming — no matter if the project is rocketry or recycling.
FUN FACT: 4-H originally had only 3 H’s. The fourth H (Health), originally suggested to be Hustle, wasn’t added until 1911.
The 4-H emblem is a 4-leaf clover, which is federally protected by Congress, just as Smokey Bear and the Presidential Seal are.
For more details, check out this (under-2-minute) video of 4-H’s beginnings:
#2. Is 4-H only for farm families?
Not at all.
In fact, in 2018–2019, 78% of Marathon County 4-H members lived off of farms. (See the map below showing the locations where our 4-H Club families resided during those years.)
In addition to farm-related projects such as beef, crops, and welding, youth can also participate in 4-H through:
- Travel experiences: Youth can take an educational trip to Madison; Washington, DC; Canada; Atlanta; Japan; and more!
- Overnight & day camps: Youth learn survival skills, relax with new friends, and conduct experiments at countywide or statewide camps.
- Groups: Youth can dive deeper into a project such as drama, horses, or ambassadors.
- Afterschool & summer school programs: Youth can explore a program opportunity in a smaller classroom setting with trusted adults.
While the first 4-H club was the Corn Growers Club in Ohio (with the purpose of teaching new agriculture practices to reluctant farmers: the members’ parents), today 4-H not only has agriculture programming (plant and animal science, etc.) but also programming in:
- Healthy Living: mentorship, mind and body safety and well-being
- Civic Engagement: leadership, expressive arts, community action
- STEM: engineering, technology, and environmental science
Project learning is just one component of 4-H. Community service and service-learning projects, with adults working equally alongside youth, is a cornerstone of 4-H programming, teaching lifelong skills.
As 4-H groups moved into the suburbs and cities and evolved over the last 100 years, nontraditional 4-H groups have popped up, including:
- SPIN clubs: SPecial INterest 4-H groups, such as lemonade stands to teach business entrepreneurship, or yoga classes to learn about mindfulness.
- Youth civic organizations: Programs like Youth Governance Program and Youth as Partners in Civic Leadership empower youth voice and their capacity to lead in their own groups, schools, and communities.
- Digital Ambassadors: Teens serve as technology teachers, delivering lessons on digital literacy to community members.
For a robust list of 4-H project topics in Marathon County, I invite you to download our 4-H Project List (PDF).
#3. Does 4-H cost money?
Annual Marathon County 4-H membership dues are $10, which sometimes is paid for by the club.
Marathon County 4-H is affordable due to its funding partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (National Institute of Food and Agriculture), UW-Madison, and Marathon County Government. These funding streams cover almost all costs of being in 4-H.
4-H allows easy access to families because:
- There are no national dues to participate.
- There are no required uniforms.
- Projects are child-selected in order for members to participate within a family’s budget.
The Marathon County 4-H Leaders’ Federation holds annual fundraisers to offset program expenses, provide college scholarships, and offer over $15,000 in financial support for educational experiences.
#4. How does 4-H contribute to the Wisconsin Valley Fair?
While I may be a bit biased, I think 4-H contributes some of THE BEST parts of our annual fairs:
- Animals: 4-H’ers work with their pets of all sizes (yes, some do take their fish) for months or years, prepping and learning about how to make them their best, whether for show, the market, or their home.
- Cakes: Marathon County youth spend days working on their cake creations to be evaluated at the Pre-Fair Contest in July, where they also are required to demonstrate at least one skill, and have an interview with the judge on their experience. In order to get their monetary premium, they are required to put it on display for the six-day event.
- Quilts & Flowers: The intricately detailed quilts, quilling, and woodworking — as well as the hand-selected flowers, crops, collections, and jams — that fill up East Gate Hall and Fieldhouse at the Wisconsin Valley Fair each year are products of 4-H members. The youth sign up for the projects in the fall and then learn about and work on the projects throughout the year, bringing their best to show off to fair-goers.
- Baked Potatoes: The stand in the center of the Exhibition Building with the giant potato sign is the 4-H potato booth. They can sell you a potato about 8 different ways, and the proceeds go toward the Marathon County 4-H Leaders Federation to help fund the Marathon County program. Youth who are awarded financial assistance are required to work, but many youth members and adult volunteers enjoy crafting the perfect potato while singing and people-watching.
#5. Are any of Marathon County’s prominent business or civic leaders a product of 4-H?
A number of County Board Supervisors, Town and Village Board Members, teachers, bankers, and others either currently are or were adult 4-H leaders. They volunteered their time to help lead projects or clubs, chaperone camps and trips, and/or lead departments at the fair.
We have several local government leaders that were 4-H members, including:
- Kurt Gibbs — Marathon County Board Chair, Clark County 4-H Alum
- Gary Beastrom — Marathon County Board Supervisor, Pierce County 4-H Alum
- Tim Buttke — Marathon County Board Supervisor, Marathon County 4-H Alum
- Sara Guild — Marathon County Board Supervisor, Shawano County 4-H Alum
- Bill Miller — Marathon County Board Supervisor, Dodge County 4-H Alum
- Jamie Polley — Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Director, Marathon County 4-H Alum
National 4-H has several notable alumni, including:
- President Jimmy Carter
- Vice President Al Gore
- Senator Mitch McConnell
- Secretary/ Governor Tommy Thompson
- Country singer Reba McIntire
- TODAY Show host Craig Melvin
- Actress Aubrey Plaza
. . . to name just a few!
See some of the famous names that make up 4-H’s 60 million alumni in the (95-second) video below.
There is a place in 4-H for everyone — youth and adults.
4-H enrollment is currently open . . .
Learn more about Marathon County 4-H at https://marathon.extension.wisc.edu/4h or contact the Extension Marathon County office at 715-261-1230.
And be sure to stay tuned for special events and contests October 6–12 during National 4-H Week!
Program Coordinator | Marathon County 4-H
Kaitlyn Bernarde is the Marathon County 4-H Program Coordinator for University of Wisconsin Extension–Cooperative Extension, where she has worked since April 2018. She is a graduate of Marathon High School, has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, divides her time between volunteer management and expanding access to 4-H programs. Her passion is strengthening Marathon County youth and adults via education, opportunities, and experiences. In her free time, you can find her exploring Wisconsin with her husband, consuming the news of the day, and trying a new cup of coffee with her family. Email Kaitlyn Bernarde.
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(All photos courtesy of Kaitlyn Bernarde.)