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National 4-H Conference Connects 4-H Youth from Across the Country

Jennifer Martin, CSREES Staff, (202) 720-8188

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2006 – More than 300 youth and adult delegates gathered in Washington, DC, for the 2006 National 4-H Conference to share ideas and form recommendations in guiding future national 4-H youth development programs nationally and in their communities.

“A major goal of this year’s conference was to offer participants a rich and meaningful personal and professional development experience through a comprehensive understanding of the essential elements of the 4-H Youth Development Program and to gather their input as to how to shape the 4-H program of the future,” said Cathann Kress, director of youth development at USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES).  CSREES is home of the National 4-H Headquarters.

Conference activities centered on the theme of “Connect 4-H – Let’s Get Together,” and included workshops and other events that emphasized civic engagement, youth-adult partnerships and professional development. Delegates shared ideas and formed recommendations for the future of 4-H at roundtable discussions and a town hall meeting.

Recommendations formed during the conference reflected the overall theme identified by the youth planning committee of “Connection.” Delegates most strongly voiced a desire to increase and formalize the opportunities for state exchanges, allowing them to experience the lives of 4-H youth all across the country. Youth also encouraged the idea of connecting with each other through a national 4-H camp, and through more national 4-H communication vehicles. They want to stay connected to 4-H during college and recommended the formation of a national 4-H college scholarship program to encourage access to educational opportunity. Delegates also recommended they connect the communication skills they’ve gained in 4-H through a national 4-H public speaking contest.

Kress announced these recommendations during the USDA Assembly, where Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns welcomed delegates to the department. Kress said the recommendations will be shared throughout the 4-H program nationally and with officials at USDA who will work in the upcoming year to implement them.

Johanns and other USDA officials were on hand to speak to delegates during the assembly. Johanns, a former 4-H member in Iowa, said his time spent on the farm and as a 4-H member helped shape who he is today by teaching him responsibility, discipline and commitment to purpose.

“What you are learning today, I promise you, will serve you well,” he said. “The foundation you are building through the 4-H program will be a life-long foundation.”

Johanns also addressed how USDA is working to improve agriculture for young people. During the 2007 Farm Bill listening sessions held in 2005 across the nation, the Secretary asked 4-H members to participate and share their views on farm policy.

“That set the exact, right tone for the sessions. People became engaged in how we can build a future for young people in agriculture,” he said. “We owe it to you to provide farm policy for you and to build an agriculture economy that invited you to participate.”

While not all 4-H youth are engaged in farming, as leaders they will be called upon to make decisions as future community leaders that will require them to understand agricultural issues, whether about production agriculture, water quality, conservation or other parts of the food and fiber industry.

Delegates also met with their legislators on Capitol Hill Day to represent youth from their states and discuss state 4-H programs with congressional members and their staff. Other conference activities included the Clover Cruise aboard the Spirit of Washington, a service learning project focusing on disaster preparedness and the annual variety show.

Since the first conference in 1927, National 4-H Conference, known as the “Secretary’s Conference,” continues to be USDA’s premier youth development opportunity to engage youth in developing recommendations for the 4-H Youth Development Program. 

The National 4-H Conference serves as an avenue to assist youth and adult leaders to develop recommendations to guide 4-H programs nationally and in their communities. As the sponsor for this conference, the National 4-H Headquarters seeks to promote positive youth development, facilitate learning and engage youth in the work of the Land-Grant Universities and USDA to enhance their quality of life. For more information, visit http://www.national4-hheadquarters.gov.