“What are your kids doing for the summer?” -that’s the current question we parents are asking each other. It’s part of the research project parents do every May. For the past 10 days I have been comparing schedules, prices, and activities of various summer camps. I put this question to my friend, Jane Griswold, who works at Wisconsin’s Hoard’s Dairyman, and has three school-age children. Jane said that for the past several years, her kids have enjoyed the Cross Plains 4-H Club activities.
4-H clubs began forming throughout the United States in the early 1900’s. Their original purpose was to educate youth in research-based, agricultural practices and technologies. Today’s clubs emphasize leadership and problem-solving as they guide kids in hands-on projects ranging from the Arts and Communication, to Animal Sciences, Mechanical Sciences, Natural Resources, Plant and Soil Sciences, Family, Home and Health, and Community Involvement. Central to the 4-H mission is development of the good citizen. Today, 6.5 million young people pledge: “my HEAD to clearer thinking, my HEART to greater loyalty, my HANDS to larger service, and my HEALTH to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.” And does participation in 4-H clubs foster self-confident, independent, successful citizens? National research studies say ‘Yes’.
For their 4-H summer projects, the Griswold children will be raising livestock which they will show at the Wisconsin, Dane County Fair in July. Jane explained that she and her husband, Tim, grew up on Wisconsin farms. They bought a small farm so their children will learn the valuable lessons farm-life teaches, – lessons learned from being responsible for the care of other creatures, whether these creatures be animals or plants. Accepting responsibility for another life-form teaches life’s lessons of hard-work, self-discipline, independence, problem-solving, and self-lessness. As all care-givers learn, “it’s not about you! – It’s about the one who needs you.” Or, put another way, “Love isn’t how you feel about someone; it’s how you treat them no matter how you feel.”
Jane and Tim want their children, Kate (14), Sara (12), and James (9), to understand their place in the natural cycles of life, – particularly, life’s most essential cycle, -the cycle of food. By nourishing plants and animals, we people sustain ourselves. Some of the most prevalent lifeforms on this planet: corn, beans, rice, cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens, are those which nourish humans and are therefore nourished by humans. We need each other. And out of this mutual need, grows respect. How does a parent teach a child to respect the planet? – one life at a time.
The animals come to the Griswold barn after they are weaned. Then each child assumes care of one or more animals, although the siblings routinely help each other. Kate cares for 5 pigs, – Lollipop, Skittles, Reeses, Snickers, and Twix. Her banner at the fair will read, “Pork is a sweet deal!” Kate also cares for and will show some ewes (female sheep) at the fair. Sara is responsible for Angel, a gentle but rambunctious, jersey dairy cow. Next year, Angel will have a calf and join a dairy herd. James cares for Rocket, a Black Angus steer who presently outweighs James by roughly 900 pounds. Rocket is so named because “he must grow like a rocket to make weight for the fair.” He gains about 2-3 pounds per day from the roughly 30 pounds/day of food James feeds him.