Katie Wilson has been in Isabella County’s Dairy Dreamer’s program through 4H for five years, and in 4H for longer than that; however, when she joined 4H, she had no idea what a drastic impact it would have on her life.
Because of 4H, she has gained an increased level of confidence, learned public speaking and leadership skills, and even made her career decision.
“I’m going to MSU in the fall to study Dairy Management. I wouldn’t have decided that without 4H,” says the 17-year-old, who would like to work in the dairy industry, potentially in breeding and genetics.
Hunter Geiger, 17, gives his cow, Bandit, chin scratches. Geiger plans to show Bandit as his 4H project animal this year.
Cathy Fry, who runs the Dairy Dreamers program, teaches the youth a great deal about the animals they are taking to competition, how the animals will be judged, and the dairy industry as a whole. Fry works with youth in the Dairy Dreamer’s program to help them gain the knowledge and confidence to defend their projects in competition, which helps them build an overall sense of self-confidence.
“You don’t just learn how to judge the cattle – that part isn’t important to me – it’s learning how to defend what you did,” Fry says. “It’s not just, ‘I did this.’ It’s, ‘Why I did this.’”
Fry also works with the Dairy Dreamers to be a team with the more experienced youth teaching and helping the newer youth, and everyone lending a hand whenever needed.
“They do compete individually when they go down to the state contest; but, we take the cattle down together, we help each other,” Fry says. “I think it’s really important to teach them the teamwork part of it.”
Another 4H program in Isabella County that involves a lot of teamwork is the BEElievers program, a beekeeping program which officially formed as a club this spring and is run by Karl Geiger. Geiger has about 45 hives in his backyard that he works with youth in the program to keep – from marking the queens to harvesting honey and everything in between.
With the current decline in bee populations, Geiger says programs like this are important so youth can learn the impact of bees and the impact their own actions have on the bee populations.
Ashiah Miller, 10, who is in the BEElievers program through 4H, looks closely at a group of bees.“It ties into the farming community and into our food chain - to put it out there, to educate these people what they’re doing, how they’re destroying the environment. It’s imperative that we keep bees around. Directly, one-third of our food comes from a pollinator. Indirectly, I’d say it’s over half,” he says. “The young force is our future.”
Because of this program, youth like 10-year-old Ashiah Miller are discovering that bees aren’t something to be scared of and are learning how to properly handle them.
“I used to be scared of bees and try to avoid them,” says Miller, adding that now she knows, “[Bees] pollinate everything and pretty much all of the food we eat is made from the bees.”
Karl Geiger teaches a group of 4H youth in the BEElievers program, and their parents, about bees.
While this program was started with the help of a grant, the goal is for it to be self-sufficient, with the youth harvesting their own honey and making their own products.
“The business skills that they’ll learn will be marketing, leadership, and money management because they will be on a budget,” says Geiger. “It is really a sweet gig.”
Geiger initially got involved with 4H when his son, Hunter, first started in it around eight years ago. Now 17, Hunter has taken on a goat and a cow as projects this year. While Hunter has always taken a cow as a project, he has increased his skills each year – including his ability to manage a budget.
“Money management is a big thing that he has gained from this,” says Karl Geiger. “The first year we paid for everything. The second year it came out of his budget.”
Hunter’s mom, Jennifer Geiger, added that – from previous year’s sales - he has been able to purchase a livestock trailer and build a barn, in addition to purchasing the supplies he needs for the following year.
Hunter Geiger, 17, walks his cow, Bandit. Geiger plans to show Bandit as his 4H project animal this year.
Hunter Geiger says the money management, time management, and leadership skills he learned through the various aspects of 4H will benefit him for years to come. For Wilson, public speaking and leadership are two of the many skills that she will take away from 4H into her adult life.
“I think you can’t really get away from public speaking. You’re going to have to do it at some point, and leadership too,” she says. “Basically anything you are going to do, there’s going to be some part of leadership to it.”
During her time in 4H, she has seen a lot of youth come through the program and, like her, Wilson says they don’t initially join to learn skills like money management, public speaking, or leadership.
“I think they’re coming in so they can learn to show an animal or learn about their project, but the public speaking and leadership just happens along the way.”