As a farm kid growing up in the Davenport area, there wasn’t much choice in whether I would be involved in 4-H or not. I don’t remember my first 4-H meeting or even my first project because those things precede my memory. I do know that after some attempts at smaller animal projects, I settled, as a shy 3rd-grade girl, on raising steers and horses. 4-H was a part of my life until I graduated high school and, in many ways, laid the foundation for my desire to stay connected to agriculture. It equipped me with a can-do attitude and out-of-the-box entrepreneurial thinking; it prepared me for procedure and protocol in my professional life, and – at the very least – it taught me that it’s okay to fail as long as you try and try again. Now, 18 years post 4-H, I don’t know what happened to the ribbons and trophies or where all the record books went that I spent countless hours preparing, but you bet I remember the name of the steer that gut-kicked me and the lessons I learned in “getting back on the horse”, the adults who sacrificed so much time to help me with my projects, and the boy I met at the Lincoln County Fair who I later married. You bet I do.
We, organizers of the New Crop Scholarship, want as many kids as desire to have those kinds of experiences, learn those kinds of lessons and hold those kinds of memories. And, more importantly, we want to help inspire a new generation of farmers and ranchers. There is a decline in agricultural interest from our youth and generational family farming is waning. We need to intentionally raise up the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
However, that’s easier said than done. 4-H and FFA are excellent programs to learn the skills needed to continue the agricultural tradition, but projects can cost anywhere from $1,000 – $3,000. Yep, you read that right: It can take thousands of dollars to initially invest in these projects. So, what’s a kid to do?
That’s where the New Crop Scholarship Program comes in. The scholarship’s goal is to ease the financial burden of starting new 4-H and FFA agricultural projects for kids in Lincoln County. Under the supervision of their 4-H leader or FFA advisor, kids can apply for the scholarship for any new project, including first-time members. 4-H clubs and FFA chapters can also apply for the scholarship with projects that will encourage more member participation by removing barriers (building club animal pens, purchasing supplies all members can use, starting a show trunk where used show clothes and items can be borrowed by other members – these are all great ideas for groups!). All applicants have to submit an application, a budget for their project, and a letter of recommendation and qualifying applicants are interviewed by the scholarship committee. We look for someone who has thought about their project from start to finish, budgeted realistically, and who has a desire to continue the tradition and pass on their lessons learned in some way.
Since this is the ‘Women in Agriculture’ issue of the Huckleberry Press, it’s important to point out that every applicant for the scholarship has been a female since it began in 2016. (We’ve had about 15 applicants and I think it goes without saying that all three recipients so far have been female.) Also, the scholarship program and fundraiser organizers are all women. This is consistent with agricultural trends across the nation: more and more women are now primarily involved in agriculture, up 27% from 2012 according to the USDA’s 2017 Census of Agriculture (the most recent report). 36% of American producers are women and that number continues to grow. Girls run the world, according to Beyonce, but this proves that girls also feed the world.
Back to raising up the next generation of farmers: women are a growing resource to address our aging and dwindling agricultural workforce. Take Hannah Warwick, for example: She was our first scholarship recipient in 2016 and she used the funds to purchase a show steer. As a “town-kid” it was a team effort between her FFA advisors, community members, and the scholarship committee to provide her access to the resources she needed to be successful – and she was! She is now at Carroll College in Helena, Montana and wants to be an FFA advisor in the future. Now that’s passing on the tradition!