Chair: Angie Grove – [email protected] – 717.497.4887
The Youth, Our Future
Whether you live on a farm or not, we are all looking for that one activity that makes our children light up. I was looking for that exact activity for my 10 year old daughter. We tried the normal gymnastic and dance classes. We even spent 6 weeks in a Hip-Hop class. Nothing seemed to excite her or maintain her interest. That changed in October 2010 when we visited Bent Pine Alpaca Farm’s Open House.
As we strolled around the farm and visited, we laughed and smiled at these new creatures. My daughter was given the opportunity to walk Sampson. The smile on her face was exciting. When we spoke to Darwin Kell and learned that he and his wife, Doris, hosted 4H kids at their farm, my daughter was all ears. Like many, my first response was “I can’t purchase an alpaca. Where would we keep it? How would we pay for it?”
Alpaca 4H Clubs are unique, in the fact that you do not need to purchase the alpaca or live on a farm. Some farms lease youth the alpaca, some assign you the alpaca for the year as long as you commit to a certain number of hours a month.
Well, what is 4H? What do you do? Do I really have time for it?
4H is overseen by the Penn State Extension office. “4H is a community of young people across America who are learning leadership, citizenship and life skills.” Please visit their website to find information near you, www.extension.psu.edu.
4H Alpaca clubs study everything from the anatomy, to the history, to the fiber of the alpaca. Some focus more on the fiber industry and some gear more towards the livestock industry. Most clubs have a monthly meeting. What 15 year old do you know that can run a business meeting and follow parliamentary procedures? Please drop in on any 4H meeting and I will introduce you to some.
4H brings kids (and their families) together with others from their county and their state. While the club concentrates on alpacas, the County and State Extension offices offer camps and conferences. My daughter has made friends all across the state. What a great opportunity. In a few years when the kids are off to college, they will be making life changing decisions by answering questions like where will I live, what do I want to do? It’s very possible they will already know someone in an area they are considering moving to because of their 4H connections.
4H teaches dedication. Alpacas do not care if it is raining, snowing or 100 degrees. They need to be fed, walked and loved. Kids work with their alpaca every week. They forge a bond and trust. They learn patience, because we all know how “easy” it is to train an alpaca to walk. Have you trained yours to do the limbo? Well, if you need a hand, just call one of these kids.
4H is a win-win for everyone. The youth learn that hard work pays off. They learn that things don’t always go as planned (ever try to walk your alpaca into the ring but they had other plans?). Farm owners who works with 4H will tell you that they are proud to work with these kids, proud to teach the kids and that the kids are some of the hardest workers you will ever meet. The kids can talk to the public about your alpaca, about your fiber and about your store.
As the youth grow, the 4H opportunities grow. There are teen council and leadership conferences. Many schools also offer FFA. What is FFA? While the letters stand for Future Farmers of America, the organization teaches all aspects of agriculture.
The FFA motto is “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.” What a great philosophy to teach our youth. They are our future. FFA curriculums range in variety from Parliamentary Procedure, Animal Science, Food Science, Livestock Judging and other opportunities.
What does this mean for the Alpaca Industry? Why do we care about these initiatives? These youth are learning about legislation and how to lobby for changes. We need these youth and their passion for all levels of agriculture. As parents, leaders and mentors it is our job to foster their interest in the textiles, the crops to feed the alpacas and business management to continue profitable sales.
PAOBA is on the forefront of working with the youth. We are the first to have an Alpaca Princess Program. This program places our youth in front of the Governor and other legislators as well as the public. PAOBA was also successful when they lobbied the Pennsylvania Farm Show to be added to their yearly schedule. Did you know that Farm Show is the largest indoor agricultural exposition under one roof in the nation, with nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibits every year? The event showcases the quality and breadth of Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry and the people who make it thrive. The show offers visitors a tiny slice of the industry that employs nearly half a million people and contributes $185 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy every year! This is a great time to invest in and support our youth, our future.