4-H – Not just for farm kids

Ellianna Oakes learns how to braid a fleece dog toy from Creative Clovers 4-H leader Danielle Holmes. (Photos/courtesy Creative Clovers.)

4-H clubs are firmly rooted in the soil. The seed was planted more than a century ago to give Minnesota farm boys and girls experiences in “learning by doing.” But there’s much more to the clubs today than growing corn and animal husbandry.

Take the Creative Clovers 4-H Club of Moorhead. It’s a firmly urban group, made up of both boys and girls who range from kindergarteners to teens in their first year of college. While their rural cousins still show livestock and crops at the Clay County Fair in Barnesville every summer, the Clovers and other city groups are involved in other learning opportunities including youth leadership.

Danielle Holmes of Moorhead is the adult leader of the Moorhead contingent. “I’m an alumna,” she says. In her youth, while she lived in Wadena, she was a member of the East Ottertail County Club in Deer Creek. “My mother was, too, and she passed it down to me. That’s how it seems to go.”

So it was almost inevitable when Danielle’s daughter Ava started with the Clovers as a fourth grader. Her brother Nolan, then in kindergarten, came along, too. Today Ava, 17, and Nolan, 13, continue to have fun and pursue their particular interests in the club.

“I remembered the fun I’d had and called the Clay County Extension Service to find an urban club,” Danielle explains. “Later, when the leader’s own children aged out of membership, I stepped up, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Today, Clay County 4-H has more than 300 members from grades kindergarten through one year past high school. Thirteen community clubs meet locally to provide hands-on learning opportunities for their members. Clay County 4-H also connects with the five school districts in the county to provide high-quality after-school programs that are convenient for families.

The Covid pandemic presented a challenge to the Clovers, as it did to all kinds of clubs and organizations. Despite Zoom meetings, the club’s membership declined to about a dozen. The loosening of Clay County’s restrictions earlier this year allowed them to resume meeting in person, keeping in mind the need for masks and distancing.

Many of the club’s monthly get-togethers feature recreation chosen by the members – Ninja gym, sledding, an outdoor movie night, a trip to Thunder Road.

Other highlights are educational and focused on building skills, like the recent paint-along. Visitors have taught lessons on pet care, wildlife conservation – “anything the kids want to learn,” the leader explains.

Like all 4-H members, the club gets most excited about the fairs. Clay County 4-H members showcased their learning this summer with 869 general projects and 850 livestock entries. Danielle says the local club’s favorite moment each year is working at the 4-H food booth at the Barnesville fairgrounds.

“Leadership training is our number-one objective,” she adds. She talks of young people she’s watched open up through their experience in the 4-H Green Team, “standing up and speaking up more.” Some, she says, have overcome much of their shyness. “4-H leadership training helps bring them out of their shells,” she asserts.

The Green Team gives teens a chance focus on projects and goals suited to their interests and level. The program includes team-building exercises at local “escape rooms,” pizza party social nights, and other opportunities to learn and grow. For more information on the program, which begins Oct. 23, contact the Clay County Extension Office, 218-299-5020.

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