One hundred years ago, Arizona’s first 4-H Club was established to teach children
how to grow cotton. Today, as the organization celebrates its centennial, the focus has
shifted from raising cows and canning vegetables to building robots and developing apps.
© Josef Muench / Northern Arizona University Cline Library
Arizona 4-H sheep exhibit, circa 1960
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By Kayla Frost
Although its roots are in canning, farming and raising cows, the modern version of Arizona 4-H focuses on technology and community service. The mission of the organization — to prepare children for employment and community service through clubs and competitions — is the same, but “learning by doing” has taken on a new meaning. Today, kids in Arizona 4-H aren’t just raising cows and tending fields; they’re building robots, developing apps and creating documentaries.
Kirk Astroth, the director of Arizona 4-H Youth Development, says projects come “in and out of vogue,” depending on what’s going on culturally. For instance, the first Arizona 4-H Club, established 100 years ago, was Chandler’s Boys Cotton Club, which was led by George Peabody. The purpose of the club was to teach children techniques to increase yield, as World War I was imminent. At the time, girls were involved in canning clubs to improve food preservation — all in the hope that these skills would percolate up to adults, who were less receptive to new ideas. It worked.
In the 1950s, the organization’s focus changed to civil defense, and in the 1960s and ’70s, 4-H members were working on rocketry projects. The biggest Space Race-fueled program was “Blue Sky Below My Feet,” which taught youths about gravity, space foods and the clothing necessary for space travel during the 1980s.
Now, children in 4-H are responding to technological and sustainability challenges. However, Astroth says, a lot of parents think 4-H is still focused on the needs of the past, such as farming and ranching. “They say, ‘I’d really like my kids to be involved in 4-H, but we don’t have 40 acres,’ ” Astroth says. “But we’ve changed. We do all kinds of stuff to reach the diversity of kids and what they’re interested in. We’re willing to change with the times.”
For more information about 4-H programs in Arizona,
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