4-H program collaborations enhance school learning and introduce agricultural careers

When youth get their hands dirty, it may spark their interest in gardening and an agriculture-based career.

Webster School students prepare one of the beds for planting the seedlings they nurtured from seed as part of their classroom project during a field trip to the MSU North Farm in Chatham, Michigan.

Webster School students prepare one of the beds for planting the seedlings they nurtured from seed as part of their classroom project during a field trip to the MSU North Farm in Chatham, Michigan.

Getting introduced to agriculture at an early age can foster a possible career path for youth. The best way to encourage youth to consider farming as a possible occupation is to help them get their hands dirty at an early age.

The Cornell University “Field Journal: A Beginner’s Guide for Young Farmers” suggests hands-on experiences, whether it be through job shadowing a farmer, working an on-farm job, developing an agriculture student project or even starting an agricultural business are the most fun, challenging and rewarding methods of exploring this exciting career field.

Through a collaborative effort, Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development programs were able to provide this type of experience for youth in Delta County. Webster School second graders from Escanaba, Michigan, recently enjoyed a day of hands-on learning about plants at the MSU North Farm in Chatham, Michigan. The Chatham North Farm is an “incubator” experiment station designed to foster interest in organic small-scale farming.

The trip was funded through a grant provided by Hannahville Indian Tribe 2% funds to increase youth activity and experiences in agriculture. Webster School has a long history of promoting learning about agriculture through their school garden.

Students in the classrooms planted flats of seeds from the North Farm Seed Saving Program. The second and third grades both studied plant units during the year, so this type of program is the perfect match for the school’s curriculum.

The trip was this year’s culmination of a plan made possible through the combined efforts of MSU Extension 4-H Youth Development, the Project GREEEN Upper Peninsula Food Project, MSU Extension Master Gardener Program and Webster Elementary School staff.

While at the farm, students learned about seeds, transplanted some of their pumpkin seedlings they had grown in the classroom, practiced making soil blocks and created a take-home plant project. Staff at the farm will be caring for the pumpkin plants during the summer.

Next October, the students will be returning to harvest their pumpkins. Additional seedlings grown through the project have been planted in the school garden and will be cared for and harvested over summer.

This type of hands-on programming gives youth the opportunity to develop an interest in gardening and explore a possible career in the agricultural field.

Field Journal: A Beginner’s Guide for Young Farmers” indicates, “Careers are available for individuals at any level of mastery with a wide range of interests—a quick look over the agricultural career inventory sheets given to FFA students shows no fewer than 22 different agricultural industry topics!”

MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development help to prepare young people for successful futures. As a result of career exploration and workforce preparation activities, thousands of Michigan youth are better equipped to make important decisions about their professional future, ready to contribute to the workforce and able to take fiscal responsibility in their personal lives.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth career preparation, money management and entrepreneurship programs, read the 2016 Impact Report: “Preparing Michigan Youth for Future Careers and Employment.”

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