4-H brings rural knowledge to urban kids

by Ariana Taylor-Stanley

This article was originally published in May 2014


“Who knows what temperature the incubator needs to stay at for the eggs to develop?” Kevin Haywood asks the six children seated around a dining room table strewn with chicken breed books and pages from an incubator instruction manual. Hands shoot into the air.

“One hundred degrees,” Katie Moen answers, correctly. Ten-year-old Moen has been going to 4-H club meetings like this one for almost half her life, and her family has raised backyard chickens at their home in Ballard even longer. At this meeting of “Cooped Up In Seattle” 4-H Club, the kids (ages 8 to 14), their parents, and volunteer leader Haywood prepare to incubate a new batch of chicken eggs.

The 112-year-old 4-H program is described on its national website, 4-H.org, as “the nation’s largest youth development and empowerment organization.” The four Hs stand for head, heart, hands and health.

4-H began at the turn of the last century in response to increasing migration of young people to urban areas. Rural schools partnered with universities to create after-school clubs focused on agricultural projects such as growing corn and canning tomatoes. The program also succeeded at fostering personal growth and in the 1950s expanded into urban areas. Today, university extension programs support both school-based programs and volunteer-led community 4-H clubs.

4-H in King County

Nancy Baskett, King County 4-H program coordinator, says the program’s goal is “developing capable, caring and contributing youth.” A vocational focus remains, though in King County it’s not about growing corn.

King County 4-H clubs “focus on life skills and workforce skills — communication, team building — skills companies are looking for,” Baskett reports. They emphasize STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and healthy living.

Baskett notes that community 4-H clubs are more popular in rural areas. More than 7,500 youth are involved in 4-H activities in King County, more than 500 of them in the county’s 59 4-H clubs. While King County makes up almost 30 percent of the state’s population, only 12 percent of the state’s “4-Hers” live in the county.
This can be explained partly by the King County Extension’s temporary closure due to budget cuts in 2012, which prevented new members from joining the program. Prior to the closure, 10,539 youth were engaged in 4-H in King County. Funding returned in 2013. “We are trying to rebuild our club program,” says Baskett. “I have a need for volunteers that would like to start additional clubs to meet the need for all the youth and families that want to join.”

Passion and fun

Cooped Up in Seattle has brought 4-H full-circle, tackling homesteading projects despite its urban base. The rising popularly of backyard chickens and urban gardening led some families to the club. For others, like Savannah Truluck’s family, it was their child’s passion for birds.

Truluck, 14, has an allergy to feathers that prevents her from keeping indoor birds. Instead, she raises heritage bantam (miniature) chickens. “I really loved having chickens and wanted to meet other kids who had chickens,” she remembers.

Friendship with others in the club seems to be the best part for everyone, even the parents. “We all get along really well,” parent Barbara Moen reflects. Fun goes along with learning. “It’s awesome to see the knowledge they have,” she adds.

Truluck’s brother, Max, 11, also participates. At the meeting, he displays a poster he created for the county fair, advising newer members, “if you are nervous about speaking in front of people and wearing a fancy shirt, you can just make a poster.” He offers another suggestion: “If it’s really fun to you, it will be really easy.”

Learn more

To learn more about King County 4-H programs, visit county.wsu.edu/king/youth
or contact Nancy Baskett, 206-205-3152.

Ariana Taylor-Stanley farms with City Grown Seattle.

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