Learning and growing with 4-H

The Island now offers a revitalized program, with six very active 4-H clubs.

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Showmanship class at the 2023 M.V. Agricultural Fair. —Brooke Bartletta

I’ve known I wanted to be a livestock farmer since I was 12 years old, despite growing up in a community with almost zero agriculture. Acknowledging that it is pretty unlikely that someone would know their calling at such a young age, we as parents try to make it so our kids can experience as many different things as possible to help them find what they love. Even if what they love doesn’t turn into a career, a childhood filled with something to look forward to, something that makes them feel important, something that sets them up with skills that will prepare them for adulthood, is a special thing to find. 4-H is all those things. Its Hs stand for head, hands, heart, and health. It combines practical hands-on learning and commitment to community. 

The over 100-year-old organization was formed in the late 1800s, when adults in the farming community were not very willing to accept new agricultural methods and systems. It took a smart individual to realize that young people tend to be open to new, creative ideas and are more willing to experiment. It probably also has to do with the fact that the young folks didn’t have a farm mortgage or a family to gamble on. Small youth “study” groups were formed with specific focuses such as “Corn Growing Club,” “Tomato Club,” and themes ranging from dairy calf raising to canning and preserving vegetables. Fast forward to 2023 and groups of kids all over the country are getting together to learn and experiment with the very same subjects as the youth of a hundred years ago. 

Here on the Vineyard, 4-H, after a decades-long hiatus, has been reborn under the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society’s (MVAS) programming umbrella. 

4-H ribbons for the M.V. Agricultural Society’s annual fair. —Brooke Bartletta

In 2018, a group of us from MVAS traveled to the Barnstable County Agricultural Society offices to meet with 4-H directors from Barnstable and Plymouth counties. Armed with lots of knowledge and a revitalized sense of excitement, we returned to the Island and started recruiting new volunteer 4-H leaders. By 2022, six 4-H groups were formed with participants ranging in ages from 5 to 12 years old. The Crafts from Yesteryear Club meets at the M.V. Museum. The Winging It Club covers all things birds with the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, the Just a Pinch Baking Club is led by Elizabeth Bonifacio, Paint What You See Club is led by Allen and Lynne Whiting, the Farm Institute Cloverbuds — the youngest group — covers everything from food to art to farming and is led by Melissa Schellhammer, then there is my group, the Slough Farm Super Silos. 

Holding the prestigious title of longest running 4-H group on-Island, the Super Silos started out as a Cloverbud group back in fall of 2018. It was open to kids ages 5 to 7 and didn’t have a specific theme. Just like the current Cloverbud group, we focused on gardening, livestock, art, cooking, and community engagement, staffing the Ag Society’s 4-H fundraiser, the Farm Animal Meet and Greet, each spring. Of the 10 kids that started out with our group way back when as 5 and 6-year-olds, we still have four who have continued and are committed to gaining practical farming experience. 

As kids grow up, they get into new things, start playing sports, make different friends, and can be less interested in getting their hands dirty. But in the words of Juniper Begin, age 10 and longtime 4-Her, “It’s fun because as you get older, you can do more things and have more responsibilities. I started out hatching chicks and now I’m handling cows and working at the fair.” 

Calves have been trained on halters by 4-H kids and shown in the M.V. Agricultural Fair. —Brooke Bartletta

It has truly been amazing watching the kids gain confidence and learn responsibility from caring for an animal and being part of a group. This year, a select few spent extra time learning about halter-training both lambs and calves, landing them the incredible honor of showing them at the fair. 

A 4-H group is encouraged to have a specific focus of study, but within that theme, allow kids to branch out and focus on their strongest interests. It is so incredible to have such a variety of offerings for our Island kids. As both a 4-H parent and leader, I share the sentiments of 4-H parent Erica Maloney who said about her two daughters’ experiences in 4-H: “It is truly an enriching experience for our community, offering valuable skills at young ages and opportunities for personal growth. 4-H has been a positive influence on our family, fostering a sense of belonging and the importance of responsibility. It doesn’t matter the weather, as long as they are with their group, they are happy!” 

We can’t have great groups without great leaders! If you have some time to devote to an amazing group of kids, contact Lucy at programs@mvagsoc.org.