For young people, finding their passion in life is a task that can often take many years to accomplish.
As most everyone can attest to, much of our childhood and adolescent years are spent trying to find out where we fit in and what activities we truly enjoy. We do this through trying different sports, taking music lessons and joining school clubs. And while these pursuits can bring joy and teach valuable life lessons, the personal growth benefits are somewhat limited.
Parents seeking recreational opportunities for their children that are proven to develop character and maximize potential for personal growth, FFA and 4-H check all the boxes.
The National FFA Organization — also referred to simply as FFA or, under its old name, Future Farmers of America — is an intracurricular student organization for students aged 12 to 21 who are interested in agriculture and leadership. Although this organization is based in agriculture, it welcomes students wanting to pursue careers in STEM or business.
4-H on the other hand is America’s largest youth development organization that focuses on teaching young people how to lead and build community through well-rounded educational programing.
While FFA has more of a focus on agriculture and is only for older students, 4-H is available to anyone between the ages of 5 and 18. Both of these organizations work to prepare the next generation by developing their unique talents and potential for success in their future careers.
A common misconception about 4-H and FFA is that these are clubs strictly for kids who grew up on a farm or want to become farmers. While these programs do provide opportunities for students to learn about agriculture, they also give students a platform to boost self-esteem, establish strong communication skills and learn how to be resilient in real-world situations.
Typical classroom educations are not designed to develop students’ public speaking skills, leadership abilities or how to handle conflict resolution. So where are students supposed to gain these invaluable proficiencies?
How do FFA and 4-H work?
4-H and FFA are designed to supplement and enhance classroom educations by building professional development skills and emphasizing topics that are not able to be covered in normal school curriculums.
For FFA, agriculture teachers who already work in a school will incorporate FFA into their class lessons. 4-H however, works through partnerships with schools where 4-H educators and agents from local Extension offices visit schools to teach lessons and meet with teachers to develop ideas for reinforcing topics and ideas that would otherwise not be taught to the students.
Both of these programs incorporate hands-on experiences for youth through educational opportunities that develop personal responsibility and a strong work-ethic. These experiences range from in the classroom programs where students will learn about topics such as nutrition, agriculture, and STEM, to skill-building contests and projects focusing on a student’s interest.
One of the best aspects of these programs is the flexibility it provides to youth. Youth can explore multiple interests by trying activities in different projects simultaneously through the Exploring Treasures of 4-H program.
For example, if a student wants to learn about agriculture but does not want to focus entirely on farming, they can compete in agricultural marketing or communications events put on by their local FFA chapter.
The competition aspect of 4-H is meant to enhance problem-solving skills, improve communication skills and teach youth the importance of discipline and taking responsibility. To achieve this, youth can compete in a wide range of contests like livestock showing, public speaking, service projects and shooting sports.
In FFA, students can experience competition through career and leadership development events as well as livestock showing and judging. One program offered by FFA that significantly improves career development skills is the Supervised Agricultural Experience program. This program provides students with practical career experiences in whichever sector of agriculture they are most interested in.
Access to FFA and 4-H
Although these programs are most common in rural areas, they are available to students in metropolitan cities as well. This gives students all across the country the opportunity to join one of these programs to learn about agriculture and boost their personal growth.
These programs not only help youth reach their full potential, but they expose students to unique opportunities and show them what qualities are needed to become a confident leader. The inclusion of experiential learning in these programs places an emphasis on mastery rather than just focusing on test scores.
Research has proven that the positive youth development from these programs is significant. In a partnership with Tufts University, research findings concluded that students who go through 4-H are four times more likely to give back to their communities and twice as likely to make healthier choices and participate in STEM activities.
Both of these organizations have played a significant role in developing the generations of men and women who have made significant contributions to agriculture and their respective communities, and they will continue to do so in the future.
Bill Taylor grew up on a catfish farm in Alabama and received a degree in agricultural communications from Auburn University. He has since gone onto the University of Georgia for a master’s program in agricultural and environmental education.