Future of 4-H looking brighter


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The pandemic put a lot of pressure on 4-H around Manitoba, but the future is looking brighter as clubs adapt to become more flexible.

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This article was published 31/03/2022 (361 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The pandemic put a lot of pressure on 4-H around Manitoba, but the future is looking brighter as clubs adapt to become more flexible.

Many clubs lost members over the pandemic as events moved online, or were shut down completely, but the Brandon Explorers 4-H saw their numbers grow as families sought out activities.

Formed only three years ago, most Explorers are aged six to 10 years old, said leader Kristen Phillips. It’s a multipurpose club, meeting from May to September with activities ranging from outdoor living, to crafts, small and large animals, woodworking and agriculture.

They held some activities remotely over Zoom and others in person and outdoors, depending on what the restrictions were at the time.

Originally a small club, it appeals to those curious about 4-H.

That curiosity brought a lot of new members, with the club increasing from six members to 21 over the pandemic.

And their numbers are still growing.

“We have at least six more family members coming up, and two more children we know are interested in joining,” she said. “Other groups in the area also added members. It all depends on the style of learning. We introduce kids to 4-H in a fun way.”

Part of the appeal was the hybrid model they were using during the pandemic. They could have a guest speaker talk to the club about an activity over Zoom, then do their activity in-person a few days later. Phillips said the families were very accommodating and willing to work with them as restrictions changed.

Planning activities meant having to be good communicators to explain what each restriction meant and how it will affect the next meeting.

The other appeal is it isn’t all farming-centred. Several of the members are not from farming backgrounds.

As they grow — and another summer is right around the corner — the club’s future plan is taking their swelling membership and breaking it into smaller groups.

“The ratio we have for groups is two adults to six kids, so we were hoping to have four groups. That means we need eight parents, and as I said, they have been amazing.”

If a family is thinking about joining a club, Phillips said they should contact their nearest 4-H leader to find out when the next meeting is. They can sit in on a meeting, or be a “buddy” of a 4-H member, where you don’t have to commit immediately to being in the club.

The Brandon Explorers 4-H club covers a large area that includes Virden, Justice, Forrest and Oak River.

4-H clubs across Manitoba had to do a lot of pivoting to endure the pandemic. Everyone thought the pandemic was going to last just a few weeks, but then they had to move online to keep the clubs going, said provincial president Shannon Carvey.

As a handful of restrictions were lifted in the summer of 2020, some beef and equine clubs were able to have in-person “achievements,” which are events where members present projects or speeches for awards and standings.

When restrictions tightened up again in the fall, they moved back to virtual learning and took an extra step: reaching out to commodity producers to create a food series. Each week, they had a specific producer, such as pork or eggs, teach members new recipes with that specific protein.

There were also some beef and equine virtual events, which Carvey said was popular.

“That was how we were able to keep connected to our members and as the pandemic has gone on, a lot of clubs were using Zoom,” she said. “A lot of kids were able to record their presentations and speeches and we could judge them on Zoom and present awards over the platform.”

Parents stepped up to help as project leaders for their children, which kept the hands-on learning going.

Online communication has been so popular, they are keeping it to create permanent hybrid programming for the future. However, everyone has missed the in-person contact, so they’re happy to be back to bigger events.

The pandemic took a bite out of their numbers as memberships tumbled province-wide. They had 2,000 members pre-pandemic. They now have about 1,000. However, they are seeing members returning, and a lot more children new to 4-H who joined as an alternative to cancelled activities.

Many existing members stayed committed to their ongoing projects. Emma Harms, 18, from Mather, said she spent the time during lockdowns working on her communications and she had her steer and heifer to care for in the Clearwater 4-H Beef Club. When it came time to sell, she had to do it privately, rather than through the club as they normally have to do as part of their program.

Looking forward, Harms said she is getting ready for post-secondary.

“Being part of 4-H has really helped because there are a lot of awards and scholarships,” she said. “I’m also starting my own cattle herd, and all the things I learned in 4-H have helped me with doing that as well.”

» kmckinley@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @karenleighmcki1

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