4-H in the United States is a youth organization administered by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the mission of "engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development. The four "H"s stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. The organization serves over 6.5 million members in the United States from ages 5 to 19 in approximately 90,000 clubs. 4-H clubs and related organizations now exist in many other countries as well; the organization and administration varies from country to country. 4-H is mentioned in Dixie Chicks song "Good Bye Earl", Craig Morgan's song "International Harvester", and Sufjan Stevens song Casimir Pulaski Day.
The goal of 4-H is to develop citizenship, leadership, and life skills of youth through mostly experiential learning programs. Though typically thought of as an agriculturally focused organization as a result of its history, 4-H today focuses on citizenship, healthy living, and science, engineering and technology programs.
The foundations of 4-H began around the start of the twentieth century, with the work of several people in different parts of the United States. The focal point of 4-H has been the idea of practical and "hands-on" learning, which came from the desire to make public school education more connected to rural life. Early programs tied both public and private resources together to benefit rural youth.
During this time, researchers at experiment stations of the land-grant universities and USDA saw that adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural discoveries. But, educators found that youth would "experiment" with these new ideas and then share their experiences and successes with the adults. So rural youth programs became a way to introduce new agriculture technology to the adults.
A. B. Graham started one of the youth programs in Clark County, Ohio in 1902, which is considered the birth of the 4-H program in the United States. The first club was called "The Tomato Club,"or the "Corn Growing Club." When Congress created the Cooperative Extension Service of the USDA by passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, it included within the CES charter the work of various boys' and girls' clubs involved with agriculture, home economics and related subjects. By 1924 these clubs became organized as "4-H" clubs and the clover emblem was adopted.
The first 4-H camp was held in Randolph County, West Virginia. Originally, these camps were for what was referred to as "Corn Clubs". Campers slept in corn fields, in tents, only to wake up and work almost the entirety of each day. Superintendent of schools, G. C. Adams began a boys corn club in Newton County, Georgia, in 1904. However, the city of Jacksboro, Texas also stakes a claim to having the first forerunner to 4-H in 1910. 4-H membership hit an all-time high in 1974, as a result of its popular educational program about nutrition, Mulligan Stew, shown in schools and on television across the country.
The 4-H motto is "To make the best better," while its slogan is "Learn by doing."
"I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world."
The original pledge was written by Otis Hall of Kansas in 1918.
Some California 4-H clubs add either "As a true 4-H member" or "As a loyal 4-H member" at the beginning of the pledge. Minnesota and Maine 4-H add "for my family" to the last line of the pledge.
Originally, the pledge ended in "and my country", later the "and my world" was added.
The official 4-H emblem is a green four-leaf clover with a white 'H' on each leaf standing for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. White and green are the 4-H colors. The white symbolizes high ideals. The green represents springtime, growth, life, and youth.
The 4-H Name and emblem have U.S. federal protection under federal code 18 U.S.C. 707. This federal protection makes it a mark unto and of itself with protection that supersedes the limited authorities of both a trademark and a copyright. The Secretary of Agriculture is given responsibility and stewardship for the 4-H Name and Emblem, at the direct request of the U.S. Congress. These protections place the 4-H emblem in a unique category of protected emblems like the U.S. Presidential Seal, Red Cross, Smokey Bear and the Olympic rings.
4-H is a community of young people across America learning citizenship, leadership, and life skills. 4-H programs can be found in three expansive mission mandates: Science, Engineering, and Technology (4-H SET), Citizenship, and Healthy Living.
The 4-H program aims to educate youth in arts and sciences, and to encourage fellowship and service opportunities. With continued urban sprawl, 4-H continues to develop new projects for its members to study beyond agriculture and animal husbandry, including photography, conservation, cooking, public speaking, history, art, and other pursuits.
The organization is often associated with summer camps, county fairs and state fairs. 4-H has spread out across the world, and regularly awards and sponsors the International Four-H Youth Exchange (IFYE), trips, and cultural events (see external links).
Although having embraced many new fields of endeavor over the years, 4-H retains a strong connection to its roots in agriculture and the associated values of thrift, invention, education, compassion, conservation, encouragement, service, and general happiness and well-being.
The first 4-H camp was at Camp Good Luck in Randolph County, West Virginia. The first state 4-H Camp was held at Jackson's Mill outside of Weston in Lewis County, West Virginia. Jackson's Mill is the boyhood home of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
For many years, Native American imagery was a fundamental part of the summer camping programs of several states. By 2002, Virginia and West Virginia were among the last states that continued to promote the use of Native American imagery. Following a complaint to the USDA, the Virginia Extension Service removed all traditions related to Native Americans, including the decades-long practice of dividing campers into tribes, either Mattaponi, Monacan, Pamunkey, or Cherokee (all tribes native to Virginia).
The West Virginia University Extension Service also decided in 2002 to discourage the use of any Native American imagery, but later restored what it determined to be "respectful" practices, such as dividing campers into Cherokee, Delaware, Mingo, or Seneca "tribes.
Many states have "All Star" programs, although All Star programs vary from state to state. Selection as a "4-H All Star" is a recognition of achievement. In California, for example, it is the highest achievement award at the county level, and is a position awarded annually. Similarly, the capstone award in Texas 4-H is the Gold Star Award, which is given to Seniors who have shown outstanding leadership and proficiency in their project areas.
In Virginia, on the other hand, All-Stars are not simply those who have achieved an All-Star award, but are those who have gained membership into the Virginia All-Stars organization. Upon reaching the age of 15, 4-H members are eligible to apply for membership into the All-Stars organization, which promotes the continuation of 4-H principles.