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This Is NOT Your Father’s 4-H Club

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.

Most folks are surprised to find out that only 12% of today’s 4-H youth live on farms. That means 88% of them are the kids next door in urban and suburban neighborhoods.

And whether they are town or country, they are all quickly getting spun together into the World Wide Web. If you look behind the young lady’s 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.

Computers and Agriculture

The United States Department of Agriculture’s 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."

This July, 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 4-H.

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.)

Technology Teams

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.

Juniors Helping Seniors

Never too far from the definition of one of the four H’s -- 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 Teaching Seniors.

The circle 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. It’s a long way from two-hours of shoveling out the barn to emptying your cache with one keystroke.

For More Information

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

For 4-H Tech questions or comments, send an e-mail to

About the Author

Hans Petersen 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

Related Links

National 4-H Youth Web

National 4-H Technology Teams

Teens Teaching Seniors

National 4-H Web Links

4-H Web State List


October 30, 2000