4-H program proves value to community, youth
By CARLY TAMBORSKI
When you meet someone from Brown County, the first tidbit of information they tell you — and with great pride — is that Brown County is the home of Ohio’s best county fair: the Brown County Fair, also known as the Little State Fair.
It is at this fair that years of accumulated knowledge, months of hard work, weeks of sitting in classrooms, and endless beads of sweat pay off when local FFA and 4-H members are finally judged on their projects.
Here, we catch up with three members of the 2012 Brown County Fair Court as they reflect on their experiences in the FFA and 4-H now that their time in the programs is almost up, and listen as they reminisce about why they joined and what they have learned through the process.
“I got more involved my freshman year,” said Caty Fussnecker, a senior with the Georgetown FFA.
FFA programs are usually divided by school, and interested students usually join their first year of high school.
Justin Cluxton, senior at Ripley-Union-Lewis-Huntington High School joined the RULH FFA chapter as a freshman during the 2009–2010 school year.
But the life experiences that lead someone to join the FFA usually begin long before high school.
“I live on a farm so I’ve always been interested in agriculture,” Fussnecker said. “I’ve been in 4-H since I was tiny and I’ve been showing cows since I was nine. My sister was in FFA and I was just interested in the program.”
Fussnecker plans to pursue a degree in agriculture. She currently studies agriculture economics and management.
“With that, I can be a grain merchandiser, do loans, and anything related to the marketing and business side of agriculture,” Fussnecker said.
Sydney Gibson, a junior with the Western Brown FFA who also joined as a freshman, had a similar upbringing.
“I decided to join both the FFA and 4-H because I’ve always had a background in agriculture — I live on a small family farm,” Gibson said. “I love animals and everything that surrounds them. 4-H and FFA help me grow not only agriculturally, but also as a person through speaking skills and people skills — they both help me prepare for college and life.”
Gibson also plans to stay in the agriculture industry after high school.
“I most definitely do plan on having a career that is agriculturally-related,” Gibson said. “I would like to pursue being a veterinarian once I graduate.”
According to the FFA, 44 percent of members are female, making membership relatively even between male and female high school students.
“I decided to join FFA because it appealed to me — I live on a big cattle farm and love being around agriculture,” Cluxton said.
Cluxton said several students who participate in these programs go on to have careers in agriculture, but it depends on the interest of the student.
Cluxton plans to attend the Ohio State University this fall and will major in Professional Golf Management, which is a major in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Members participate in the program through their high schools and exit the program when they graduate, or they can submit projects through their place of employment.
“You have to take an FFA class and have an S.A.E. — that means a supervised agricultural experience — and that’s the showing cows, or taking a grain to the fair every year,” Fussnecker said.
Fussnecker shows cows and beings her fair project in June, but students have all year to work on their projects, depending on what they show at the fair.
Students can choose to do the same or different projects every year, but not all projects are necessarily animal-related.
Gibson says she has not done the typical projects like most people her do: she owns beef cattle, chickens, and dogs, but has never shown them.
“I have done photography projects through 4-H,” Gibson said. “In FFA, my projects are my C.D.E.’s (career development events) and my S.A.E.’s. My C.D.E.’s are my public speaking contests, job interview contests, dairy cattle judging, and Parliamentary Procedure contests.”
Gibson does the same contests every year, but may show chickens at this year’s Brown County Fair.
Besides helping with her future career, Fussnecker said there are additional benefits she has received by participating in these programs.
“You take the FFA class while you’re at school,” Fussnecker said. “It’s offered at our school as an elective, so it’s more fun — not your typical math or science. They have lots of good trips and it’s a good chance to meet new people and to get involved with agriculture — it teaches you good life skills, management, leadership.”
Fussnecker is also a member of the Calves and Companions 4-H Club and says the program is quite similar to the FFA in terms of what the students take away from it.
“4-H teaches you all the same things — the record keeping — but it starts at a younger age and it’s not just your school, it’s more regional,” Fussnecker said.
“There are many benefits of being in FFA and 4-H,” Gibson said. “Not only do they help you grow close to agriculture and learn much more about it, they give you the opportunity to learn things you may never have learned without it. My public speaking skills have grown tremendously through both of these organizations — I know that this is something that will help me in my future.”
She has even gone through practice job interviews through the FFA, which she says taught her what to expect when going in for a real one.
“Parliamentary Procedure — which I have done in both organizations — has shown me how to properly run and hold an official meeting,” Gibson said. “Also, both of these groups give kids a chance to show off their hard work. Things like this would include kids showing their animals, photography, painting, crops, etc.”
People can join 4-H as children since it’s more of a club and not run through local schools. Gibson joined the Trailblazers 4-H when she was in the fifth grade.
“FFA is a school-based program and it’s taught in school, while 4-H is a group outside of school,” Gibson explained. “There aren’t many differences between them. Kids either show their projects through their FFA chapter or through their 4-H group. At Western Brown, quite a few kids participate in FFA — some start taking it because they think it is an easy grade, and end up falling in love with it. I would figure that more kids are involved in 4-H than in FFA just because the FFA classroom amounts are limited, so some kids do not get in. 4-H groups are outside of school, which means any age can be involved, so a lot of families go to 4-H instead of FFA.”
Other local school districts show trends of students beginning strongly in 4-H and ending strongly in the FFA.
“I believe that more students participate through RULH’s FFA chapter simply because you can be involved through the school,” Cluxton said. “With 4-H you have outside clubs and meetings during times when kids either don’t want to or don’t have the time outside of school.”
“Most of the kids around here are in 4-H when they’re younger but when you’re in high school more kids just take their projects to the fair through FFA,” Fussnecker said. “I would say around 100 people at Georgetown are in FFA.”
Fussnecker’s 4-H projects have been more diverse than those she submitted through the FFA. She has shown cooking projects, sewing projects, home-ec projects, soybeans, cows, and more while showing her 4-H projects at the fair.
Cluxton has also shown cattle, one of the most common animals used in fair projects.
“Throughout my showing career through 4-H and FFA I have shown cattle for six years and marketed lambs for four years,” Cluxton said.
All 4-H projects are shown at the fair, but FFA projects aren’t required to be shown at the fair. A project submitted for one organization cannot be submitted to the other while at the fair.
Fussnecker said the time frame for projects also differs for 4-H, with project times usually lasting from April to fair time.
“4-H is a lot of work, but it teaches you how to work with others,” Fussnecker said.
It’s not only hard work, but very time-consuming, but some don’t consider that a drawback.
“I feel that there are little to no drawbacks in participating in these,” Gibson said. “Many people will argue that they both are for only people who live on farms or own animals, which is not true. Anyone and everyone can participate, learn, and grow the same amount as the other.”
“From being a member of my local FFA chapter, I have learned leadership qualities and responsibilities that I believe couldn’t have been learned in any other organization,” Cluxton said.
Whether you’re a 4-H person or an FFA person, clearly both of these organizations are wildly popular in our rural region — and for good reason.
Keep an eye out at this year’s Brown County Fair to see what Cluxton, Fussnecker and Gibson are up to now.
(Carly Tamborski is a staff writer for the Georgetown News Democrat.)