Survey shows Oregon 4-H program headed in new directions

September 12, 2003

CORVALLIS - To a lot of Oregonians, 4-H may bring to mind images of farm kids, county fairs and blue ribbon goats, rabbits and pigs. In other words, 4-H seems mostly a rural affair.

Not so anymore, according to Jim Rutledge.

Rutledge, the Oregon State University Extension Service’s Oregon 4-H Youth Development Program leader, said that in recent years the Oregon 4-H program has moved to the city – and branched into a number of new areas, from computing skills to environmental enhancement.

"Over the past decade, Oregon 4-H has changed dramatically, both in terms of numbers of youth participating and in program emphasis," said Rutledge. “It is the new programs that are largely responsible for kindling the acute interest in 4-H by urban youth.”

Less than a decade ago, only one out of eight 4-H members came from an urban area. Now about 40 percent of 4-Hers are urban dwellers.

Three of the most popular programs in the Portland area are nutrition education programs that aim at healthy lifestyles, environmental education including the Wildlife Stewards program, and Ag in the Classroom, which “helps young people understand where food and fiber come from,” Rutledge said.

“A lot of urban school-age children have second- and third-generation ties that go back to our farms and forests,” he pointed out, “and they have an interest in learning how the food gets to their table and the paper makes it into their classroom.”

Data from a recently completed statewide Oregon 4-H enrollment study comparing statistics from the 1994 and 2002 4-H programs illustrates the enrollment shift from urban to rural.

Between 1994 and 2002 total 4-H enrollment in Oregon nearly doubled, growing from 41,849 in 1994 to 79,279 in 2002. During the same period, 4-H participation among kids from Oregon's larger cities grew from 13 percent - 5,410 4-H members in 1994 - to 40 percent, with 31,455 4-H members in 2002.

In 1994, youth living on farms and in towns with populations under 10,000 people accounted for 61 percent of Oregon 4-H enrollment, said Rutledge. By 2002 Oregon 4-H was clearly taking on more of an urban image with 63 percent of 4-H enrollment coming from the state's large cities, suburban areas and smaller cities of more than 10,000.

In addition, there has been significant change in the kinds of projects 4-Hers are signing up for, Rutledge added.

For example, in 1994 45 percent of young people in 4-H enrolled in projects where they raised plants or animals. By 2002, more than two-thirds of 4-H enrollment had shifted to natural resource education projects (25 percent), nutrition and health projects (34 percent), and science and technology projects (11 percent).

The study also reveals growing diversity in Oregon's 4-H program, said Rutledge. Some newer 4-H activities, such as the 4-H Web Wizards Club in Washington County, are designed to appeal to minority youth, he said.

Web Wizards is designed to introduce Hispanic youth to computers and information technology and it has been very successful in diversifying 4-H, said Lisa Conroy, 4-H youth development field faculty in the Washington County office of the OSU Extension Service.

According to the study, last year 10.4 percent (8,228) of those enrolled in Oregon 4-H were Hispanic youth - up from 2,593 Hispanic youth enrolled in 1994. The study also found that 4-H enrollment among African American, Native American and Asian youth also increased significantly from 1994 to 2002.

Rutledge explained that the Oregon 4-H program now reaches Oregon youth in three basic ways: 4-H in-school programs, after-school programs and out-of-school programs.

"Our out-of-school programs are the traditional 4-H club activities where club members attend weekly meetings and work on various kinds of educational projects," he said.

"The growth we've experienced in 4-H programs recently is largely due to increased cooperation with local schools to deliver 4-H programs," Rutledge added.

Due to budget reductions, public schools have been hard pressed recently to broaden their science education curriculums and to offer after-school programs for children who are on their own from the time school ends until their working parents arrive home later in the day.

"The Oregon 4-H Program has worked hard to create effective partnerships with public schools to help them offer more educational opportunities to students," said Rutledge.

Some examples are the 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program and the Ag in the Classroom project in which 4-H volunteers work with school teachers to deliver environmental and natural resources education to students. In addition, 4-H has also joined with local schools to offer after-school programs such as the "TAXI" program in Malheur County, where children in grades 2-8 learn life skills.

"We've said for years that 4-H is more than cows and cooking," said Rutledge. "That's never been more true than today. Oregon 4-H remains connected to it's traditional roots and values, but we're also constantly looking for new ways to attract young people to 4-H and help them grow into productive, responsible citizens of their communities."

Author: Bob Rost
Source: Jim Rutledge