I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to interview one of the outstanding teen 4-H members in our community for the Argus as part of a series on agriculture. The article was also going to be part of the issue that highlighted the Sonoma-Marin Fair because for 4-H members, the fair is the culmination of the year’s projects; it’s a chance for them to put their hard work on display and be recognized.

I was looking forward to doing this assignment because my son, who’s now 23, had participated in a 4-H dog training project when he was about 10. Although his involvement only lasted a year – controlling our alpha German shepherd who weighed almost as much as he did required more authority on the other end of the lease than he was able to muster – I came away very impressed by the philosophy and structure of the 4-H program.

Jessie's red Holstein at the Sonoma-Marin Fair

After chatting with 17 year-old Jessie Peterson of Liberty 4-H, my respect for what the 4-H kids do is even greater; I learned about aspects of the program that I hadn’t been exposed to in the short time we participated and was reminded of what I really liked about the program.

I realize that Jessie is an exceptional 4-Her and not all members take their projects to the level that she did with her Holstein cow. But the opportunity exists through the program for kids to learn really valuable, life-long skills through their participation. Skills such as leadership, communication, science, project planning, time management and even money management. How cool is it that she learned about creating a business plan and budget, taking a loan and then fulfilling the commitment to pay it back.

Another really good thing about 4-H, is that members choose a project (although they can do more than one project) that they focus on for the full year. This seems like a different approach than in Girls Scouts. When my daughters were Girl Scouts, we did a different type of activity every week with the idea that girls could “Try-It” (that’s the name of the badge) just to get a brief exposure to a career, hobby, or experience.

That always left me feeling like Girl Scouts had ADD; every week the moms would serve up a new activity but the time spent in each activity was so short that it didn’t seem that the girls could possibly know if they had any real interest in wildlife, nutrition, theater or any of the other dozens of options.

But each 4-H project has depth so the young person finishes the year knowing if their project is something that they would like to pursue further. It was obvious that my son didn’t have any affinity for dog training but at least he had worked at it long enough to know that wasn’t going to be his calling.

But back to Jessie, 4-H, and the fair…when I went on opening day, I headed straight to the dairy barn to find Jessie’s red Holstein cow. I was especially interested in seeing the cow because Jessie had told me about the genetic study she did on red Holsteins as part of her 4-H entry in the fair.

Because I had learned a little about the effort that went into caring, studying about and paying for that cow, I saw it in a whole new light. That is indeed, a beautiful cow.