Hi, my name is Hilary Maricle and I am a 4-Her. I was the kid that grew up spending time with my cattle, not at the pool. The town kids knew that if I had a 4-H event going on that I would be missing volleyball camp and not to schedule anything during the county fair. 4-H was our family time as a youngster.
I have had the most interesting reading over the weekend as I helped my kids work on their 4-H bucket calves and practice horse along with hosting a birthday party for my two daughters and preparing for the 140th birthday party of my family farm next weekend. I appreciated the Eatocracy CNN blog, “Five Reasons to Buy from Your Local 4-H.” as the concept of buying your meat from the local 4-H auction is excellent! The comments that followed this and the follow up blog, “Does 4-H desensitize kids to killing?” really made me think, so please read along to get my view of 4-H, specifically the livestock programs.
As a 4-Her myself, a 4-H Mom, and a 4-H Council member, I am proud to say that I learned life lessons daily through 4-H and made my career choices because of those lessons. I work with my children daily to ensure that they will have this same opportunity to understand where their food comes from and how to care for animals.
First, the concept of 4-H “desensitizing” kids seems odd to me as education is not about desensitization, but rather about helping us to understand how our world works and making us better, more informed citizens. Through the education that comes with a 4-Her caring for and showing livestock comes the realization that we must respect the animal who’s service on earth is to feed us. By knowing where food comes from makes people understand that there is more to the meals than the grocery store- knowledge is power.
Second, it is hard to tell your 4-H animal good-bye and know that it has been raised as a meat product. I will be the first to tell you that even as a high-schooler, I cried my eyes out when I sold my cattle at the end of the 4-H year. I am still a sap about the entire life cycle, but at least I have a full and complete understanding of it. 4-Hers spend hours pampering show cattle to ensure that they are the best cared for animals out there. Yes, we grow attached to our animals, but that gives us a respect for all animals and the food that they provide us. I am sure my Mom could dig up a picture or two of me resting at a 4-H show leaning on my calf or treating it like a pet, but an animal raised for meat is not a pet andthose of us that raise the food to feed the world understand this.
Third, I know of no better way to teach a youngster about responsibility and compassion than to require them to care for an animal. In my world growing up and today, the animals are fed and cared for before you will see any food on the table at my house. My boys learned a life lesson this week when they did chores-there will be no going to bed until the animals are cared for, even if it means searching the yard with a flashlight to find a missing water bottle for the rabbit. My children are learning responsibility that goes way beyond keeping a clean room; they have the lives of another creature as their chores. The bucket calves that will be shown at the 4-H Fair next month are completely dependent on my kids’ feeding and caring for them. Were it not for the ability to raise these calves as bucket calves, they would have died as their mothers were not caring for them.
Lastly, my 4-H story revolves around livestock, but it is so much more. I showed cattle, cooked cookies, made shirts, went to camp, and participated in a lot of other activities as a 4-Her. My children are showing cattle, showing rabbits, raising vegetables and flowers, cooking, making crafts, taking photos, taking tractor safety courses, and studying entrepreneurship among other things as part of their 4-H experience. 4-H is all about the entire person as we learn to think about using our head, hands, heart, and health to learn about the world around us and to better serve others.
4-H has been and will continue to be an integral part of my life. I have learned the value of hard work and responsibility and I can guarantee you that my children are having these same values reinforced through their 4-H activities. The reality of the food we eat is that as humans we are the stewards of this animal that will become our meal. It is our responsibility to ensure that the next generation of animal caregivers has every opportunity to understand the entire process that occurs in the cycle of life and 4-H is a great way to facilitate that understanding. I thank 4-H for making me who I am today and I welcome the opportunity to teach others where their food comes from.