BOISSEVAIN — Hundreds of 4-H members from across the province descended on the Boissevain and Area 4-H Rally on Friday to celebrate the youth organization’s 100th birthday in Canada.
The party, which has special significance within the province because the first 4-H club ever established in Canada was in Roland, paid homage to the club’s past in the morning, featuring horse and beef shows.
While 4-H has been inherently linked to agriculture throughout its first 100 years, the ability to evolve and diversify will be an important aspect in ensuring the club’s survival for another century, according to Boissevain 4-H Beef Club leader Nanette Glover.
As a third-generation member, Glover credits the club with teaching her valuable life skills.
"It really is a gift from one generation to the next," she said.
This year, the local beef club has 12 members with an additional five peewee members, according to Glover.
While registration numbers in beef clubs across the country have dwindled, Glover said providing variety and choice will be the key to the club’s future.
"I’m not sure that you can totally curb the problem (of shrinking registration numbers), but we’re appealing to more of an urban-based population with the home and hobby clubs," she said.
The provincial government’s decision to close the local Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives frontline office in the community also hurts the club, Glover said.
"Losing the office will have a huge impact on our 4-H program," Glover said. "It was home base for us and it was a resource that we always used when we had questions that needed to be answered."
Losing the office will be tough, though according to Glover, losing the office’s extension co-ordinator, Rhonda Coupland, will be tougher.
"We couldn’t have done all of this without her," Glover said, pointing to the hundreds of 4-H members who were gathered at the community fairgrounds.
"It’s going to be a loss not having the office as a resource centre and it’s going to be a bigger loss not having Rhonda personally."
Another crushing blow to the area is the loss of the beef grazing systems department at the Brandon Research Centre, after the federal government chose to move 11 jobs to an existing facility in Lacombe, Alta.
Glover, who used to work at the research centre, said the science it provided will be greatly missed.
"It’s a loss to Brandon and Manitoba beef producers," Glover said.
"There was a lot of relevant research that was being done there and to take it out of the province isn’t a good thing."
If the odds are stacked up against the club, one would never know it by the reaction of 11-year-old Journey Rommelaere when she captured a ribbon riding Splash in one of the horse classes.
Rommelaere proudly showed her mom, Lori, the ribbon before trotting out of the ring while giving Splash a pat on the neck — the whole time grinning ear-to-ear.
"I’m very happy," said the first-year 4-H member after the judging was over.
"I really like horses and I hoped I was going to do well, but I didn’t expect to get two ribbons today."
Journey said she has learned a lot about horses since joining 4-H this year, such as "if the horse has a red ribbon on its tail, it’s because the horse will kick if you get too close," she said proudly, confident in her equine knowledge.
"Also, to always get on the horse from the left side and don’t leave things laying around so the horses can’t get into it."
Her mother said 4-H has instilled discipline, patience and work ethic in Journey.
"It’s been a really positive experience for her," Lori said.
She appreciates the opportunity the club has given her daughter, too, as the family lives in Boissevain and doesn’t own a horse.
"We’re using this year as a trial to make sure she wanted to commit to it," Lori said. "It’s an expensive sport, but it’s such a positive environment and you never feel like because you didn’t come from a horse background that you’re an outsider."
Journey’s 4-H leader, Kristin May, loaned the first-year rider her horse, giving her the opportunity to learn on a well-trained in the beginning while at the same time not incurring the costs associated with buying a horse.
"I try to teach the kids a lot about being safe because that’s what was always stressed to me in the club," May said.
The tight-knit family aspect of the club is paramount to its success. May said it’s important to encourage as many people to get involved as possible and pass some of the things she has learned through 4-H to younger members.
"When I was a member, it was mostly kids that were from the farm and around horses and animals all the time, and now it’s changed where a lot of the kids and their parents didn’t come from horse families," May said.
"A lot of the kids are from town and it’s a good change."