Facing declining membership, 4-H Manitoba hopes to draw in urban and First Nations youth as it heads into its second century
Times are changing, farms are changing, and so is 4-H.
Since its inception in the southern Manitoba village of Roland, a century ago, the venerable youth organization has been dedicated to instilling agricultural knowledge and universal life skills in rural youth.
But looking to the future also means looking to urban centres for growth.
“We’re definitely in a declining membership,” said Carrie Tapp, president of the 4-H Manitoba Council.
To combat that trend, the organization is using its 100th anniversary to launch a program called Embrace the Future to reach out to urban youth.
“Our goal with Embrace the Future is to double our membership by 2020,” said Tapp. “It’s a very ambitious goal.”
Currently, there are about 3,500 4-H members in Manitoba.
But a move towards urban youth could also mean a move away from agriculture.
“It might focus more on things like home economics projects, woodworking and that sort of trade-type projects, rather than agriculture, but the same idea,” Tapp said.
Courting urban youth could also present opportunities to bring agriculture into the city, she said.
As urban food movements gain momentum, 4-H clubs could provide valuable knowledge and help facilitate community projects, she said. It could also help educate urbanites on where their food comes from.
“There are so many people who think food comes from the grocery store… they don’t realize there is a whole process, several months of planning and growing, and applying different things to make these crops grow,” Tapp said.
In addition to urban centres, 4-H is also looking to reach out to First Nations communities.
Members of Manitoba’s 4-H council recently tested the waters by bringing “4-H for a day” to Ebb and Flow First Nation.
The reception was phenomenal, with three times the expected number of kids coming out to participate, Tapp said.
She added the current drop in 4-H numbers isn’t the result of a loss of interest in the organization, but a reflection of declining rural populations, noting farms are becoming fewer in number and larger in size.
If Quinn Robins’ enthusiasm is anything to go by, rural youth are still drawn to the values of 4-H.
“It’s a really good program, it leaves you wanting to keep doing it,” the 15-year-old said while at Ag Days in Brandon.
“I like meeting new people, and it’s really fun,” he added.
Robins said he hopes the knowledge he’s gained working on projects, visiting farms and speaking to farmers will assist him when he eventually takes over the family cattle operation near Rivers.
As an only child, the Grade 10 student is fairly certain how his future will unfold into a career in agriculture, but he noted the same can’t be said for his like-minded classmates.
“I think there are a lot of people who are interested in (farming), it’s just kind of hard to get into it… it’s so expensive and a lot of work,” said Robins.
Tapp has been involved in 4-H for 20 years, and although she didn’t end up working in agriculture, the high school math teacher said being involved with 4-H has given her skills she still uses today, particularly public speaking.
“I think it’s just such a fabulous program,” she said.
To celebrate the organization’s centennial milestone, a social and gala will be held in Winnipeg the last weekend in May, followed by an event at the Roland museum.
The anniversary will also be marked by a year-long fundraising campaign, called $100 for 100 Years.