This Is NOT Your Fathers
By Hans Peterson
Like a frosty
pumpkin falling from a hayloft, another stereotype has been shattered.
When you think 4-H, you probably conjure up a friendly, smiling
youngster standing beside her prize rooster in the state fair tent.
are surprised to find out that only 12% of todays 4-H youth
live on farms. That means 88% of them are the kids next door in
urban and suburban neighborhoods.
they are town or country, they are all quickly getting spun together
into the World Wide Web. If you look behind the young ladys
exhibit at the fair these days, you may see a Power Point slide
presentation flashing across her computer screen, detailing the
reasons why she won the blue ribbon. There may be photos of the
rooster and then color pie-charts breaking down the feed mixture,
the weekly weigh-in schedule, the bibliography of manuals on rooster
care as recommended by the professor at the university 1000 miles
away who consulted with her on the right environment for raising
a prize-winning rooster.
States Department of Agricultures 4-H program is embracing
technology at full speed on the rural information superhighway.
Tom Tate, a National Program Leader at the USDA, points out that
"We are not moving away from agriculture. We are using technology
to tighten our focus on farming and agricultural education."
200 delegates from farms across America met at the University of
Maryland for the first National 4-H Technology Conference. Oh, there
was some talk of cows and plows but the majority of the time was
spent discussing ways to use computers and the Internet to promote
and teach technology to every one of the seven million members of
Like most projects
involving computers and young people, the conference itself was
the idea of 4-H members who proposed and planned the event in a
series of nation-wide Internet chats. (In the quick adoption of
standard business terminology to the cyber-world, their webpage
casually refers to these ground-breaking planning sessions this
way: "In the beginning of 1999, a preliminary meeting was held."
Probably all in their pajamas.)
The young farmers-with-computers
who attended the Technology Conference streamlined the organization
of National 4-H Technology Teams. A key purpose of the conference
was to discuss and launch networking ideas which will allow the
50 State teams to share ideas, plans and events.
Two of the
goals of the Technology Leadership Team are:
- All 4-H
members will have access to computers and the Internet.
- All 4-H
members will have opportunities to acquire information technology
literacy skills through their 4-H activities.
Never too far
from the definition of one of the four Hs -- Hands to larger
service -- the Technology Leadership Team quickly found a mission:
to close the Digital Divide that separates the technology haves
and have-nots in America. Many 4-H members felt that senior citizens
needed to be taught how to get the information that is out there
on the web. Thus was born the intergenerational partnership which
brings teenagers and senior citizens together for fun and funny
tutorials on how-to-surf-the-net: Teens
of learning is linked together by the hundreds of caring adults
who serve as team coaches for 4-H youth. As Tom Tate says, "A
few hours a month and a volunteer can enjoy new friendships and
make a difference in the lives of youth where they live or work."
As just another
example of the government using the net to improve and connect nationwide
organizations, there is an unavoidable symmetry in the fact that
Vice President Al Gore, the energy behind the government reinvention
effort, once proudly wore the 4-H clover on his jacket as a boy
in Tennessee. Its a long way from two-hours of shoveling out
the barn to emptying your cache with one keystroke.
Tom Tate works
with the 4-H members on their technology teams. He is the National
Program Leader, Cooperative State, Research, Education and Extension
Service, Economics and Community Systems of the United States Department
of Agriculture. He can be reached at (202) 720-2727 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For 4-H Tech
questions or comments, send an e-mail to
is a writer/editor at the Health Care Financing Administration in
Washington D.C. Currently writing for AccessAmerica
E-Gov E-Zine, he can be reached at HPetersen@HCFA.gov.
4-H Youth Web
4-H Technology Teams
4-H Web Links
Web State List