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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother | Tag Archive | 4-H
Tag Archive - 4-H

City Chicken Slicker Flood Adventures

Two years ago, my daughter got her first chickens. Yes, we’re urban chicken owners. 

She loves animals, is in our county’s 4H Livestock Club and Future Farmers of America, and hopes to someday work in food and crop science.

She brought home 5 Rhode Island Red chicks that were three weeks old. We kept them in our utility room, in a bucket with a window screen on top. That spring, we weaned them outside to a backyard coop and run.

Then came a heavy spring rain of 6 inches in a single day – flash flood warnings abounded. That night, I waded through our backyard to see if they were alive. The coop was above water, in the highest part of the yard. 

I could hear loud peeping. When I opened the coop, the chicks were peeping frantically on one side, and a young possum was sitting on the other side. The young possum had somehow found its way into the coop with our birds.

“What do we do?” I phoned a farm friend.

“Kill it. If you leave the possum in there, the possum will eat the chickens alive, from the butt to the front.” We had no cage or alternative, and no stores were open.

My family joined me as we tried to figure out how to get the possum out of the coop. We grabbed tools from the garage. Richard caught the young possum with the kids’ old butterfly net. As he was pulling it out of the coop, the possum escaped through a hole in the net and began racing around the flooded yard.  We splashed around the yard with our flashlights, trying to find it.

Billy Crystal in City Slickers had nothing on us when we caught that possum.

“Found it!” Richard yelled. It was under the rock on which he was standing. “I think it’s dead.”

“It’s not dead! It’s playing possum!” I hollered.

My daughter lugged an ax from the garage, saying, “Here, Dad.”

The possum didn’t bother us again.  We splashed around the coop and run, flashlights in hand, trying to fill gaps in the fencing with rocks to prevent another possum attack before daybreak.

We still have hens. And we’ve had lots of eggs. But no more possums.

Lesson? As our kids follow their interests, if we let them, they’ll take us on unforgettable family adventures. Some with good eggs.

Tech Heroes

Josh at Tech's laser tag party

This blog is a salute to my 4H Tech Club heroes – the leaders. Who are they, and what do they do?  

Five years ago, my son started robotics. Robotics held such potential I asked our county’s 4-H program to offer a robotics project. Some areas had robotics clubs, but I wanted more.  

In Thomas Edison’s time, there weren’t light bulb clubs. I saw a vision of a 4-H Technology Club, where youth encounter technologies, build skills, and ignite passions.  

Challenge: it takes two leaders to begin a club. I am not a scientist. We needed  a second leader with a science background. A friend introduced me to Josh Weiland, a web designer. At our first meeting, Josh was friendly.  I knew he was the right guy when I told him, “I don’t know much about science, but can organize my way out of a paper bag. If you help with the science, it would work, ” and he laughed.    

4-H began a push to cultivate 1 million new American scientists. Our club could help that happen in Evansville, Indiana.

So our Tech Club began 4 years ago. Since then, Dana Nelson (a social media strategist) and Mark Keller (an engineer) have joined our team of leaders.  They all share their unique strengths with the club.

Each year, we host workshops in computers, electricity, aerospace, and robotics. We’ve brought in guest speakers including a brain surgeon, toured an airport, and practiced hands-on robotics programming as guests of a college programming class.

Josh is the fun leader who adds zing. Each year, we’ve played laser tag at our completion party.  Josh loves it, and club members conspire to “get Josh.”

Computer Hardware workshop

 Josh, Dana, and Mark give workshops in their areas of expertise. Mark has taught physics and application of the scientific method.  Dana and Josh have led members in web design exercises.Last night, Dana loaned Josh a webcam for a computer hardware workshop. Because of their many questions, the 30 minute workshop stretched to an hour. With each question, Josh answered patiently as his enthusiasm lit the crowd. 

Club members divided into teams that took apart computers and put them back together. Learning by doing sometimes means learning by taking apart. Dana, Dan Nelson (Dana’s husband, an IT pro), and Josh helped the groups.

Thanks to Josh, Dana, Mark, and all the families of our club who worked hard and built it into a success.

Gardening Lessons

A single pack of lettuce seeds can provide lots of salad for a family.

What fresh food can you grow this year?

Growing conditions aren’t perfect. Some families garden in containers or rooftops because of sun and soil issues. 

Each year, I plant our garden, with the grudging help of my kids. Living in the middle of town, we have challenges. We’re shifting our garden plot around the shady areas from neighbors’ trees.

The kids do different experiments in the garden each year as part of their 4-H garden projects. When they complain, I tell them the day may come when they need to know how to raise and preserve their own food to survive and if so, I want them to know as much as possible.

What have we learned from gardening?

  • Thomas Edison was right when he said opportunities are dressed in overalls and look like work. They smell like sweat too. Sometimes manure. Good things can come to those willing to work with manure.
  • If we wait for the perfect conditions to start, we’ll never grow a thing. Start with the soil we have and improve it.
  • Hedge your bets – diversify. One year, it was so cold my kids exhibited broccoli at the fair in late July. None of our standby tomatoes, beans, or peppers did a thing. I’ve raised decent broccoli once since.
  • Daily attention & incremental progress yield better results than a flash in the pan, astroturf push.
  • Sometimes, you do everything right, and the weather just isn’t.
  • The unplanted seed doesn’t sprout.
  • The seed eaten by the pesky bird today might just get passed back to the garden tomorrow and sprout. So don’t stress the spilled seeds of today. Instead, focus on cultivating the ones that get planted.
  • There’s always next year.

The best part of a garden is picking food fresh off the vine, eating it, and discovering how much better it tastes than produce at the store. As a mom, I think of the better vitamin content. As a cook, I think how fun it is to experiment at harvest time. And where on earth I’m going to put up this year’s harvest.

Then by this time each winter, I rejoice at how great the freshly frozen corn tastes and savor that home-canned tomato sauce.

Sometimes all it takes to begin is to plant a seed and tend it.

Llama Drama and Leadership Training

Her Llama invitation

“I want to have a llama program and llamas for bring a friend night,” my daughter, the new president of an urban 4-H club, told the planning committee last fall.

A city girl turned Future Farmers of America member who participates with a Livestock Club and raises backyard chickens, she wants to study agriculture. After seeing a llama program last year, she’s been obssessed with them.

I stayed out of her way to see what she would do.

She asked the church hosting our meeting’s permission. They said yes.

She scheduled the llama lady. Then she messaged the head leader it was set.

I called to give him warning before he saw her email. Dead silence on the phone. “She told us she wanted it in the planning meeting,” I explained.

“But I didn’t think she was serious!” he answered.

“You’ve known her for years. If you don’t tell her no, she does what she decides. If you do tell her no, she may still do it,” I told him.

I knew the girl who designed her 5th birthday cake with an erupting volcano on a Pacific island filled with palm trees, with cowboys and Indians fighting in canoes off the coast didn’t joke. (Yes, I decorated it.)

The church called. Because the meeting room had carpet, they wanted tarp on the floor.  She assured them and me that the llamas wouldn’t poop indoors. And she packed our tarp.

She drew a llama graphic and created a Facebook event so members could invite friends.

As we spread the tarp, I gasped in panic that it was close to a denim couch. “Won’t they eat the denim couch cushions?” I asked.

“Mother. Llamas are related to camels, not goats,” she admonished me in her strictest voice.

I shut the classroom door, worried the llamas would get loose and charge through the church halls.

Meeting time began. The llamas stayed on the tarp. They did not escape. They did not eat the denim couch. And they did not poop indoors.

And several kids brought friends.

Huge sigh of relief.

A leadership lesson smacked me when it was over.

If we want to groom teen leadership skills in a changing world, sometimes we have to give them space to try their outside the box ideas.

Some fail. Others work. All teach lessons.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

Hakuna ma-llama!

Winter Carnival – Evansville’s Best Family Fun for Christmas

Santa's Workshop

Remember when Ralphie looks at the department store displays in A Christmas Story? Evansville families can see comparable displays at the Vanderburgh 4-H Center Winter Carnival. Freewill donations are accepted for this first class family outing. What makes the Winter Carnival special?

Outdoor Light Display. Santa’s Workshop (in the SIAM building in the center of the lights display). The Southern Indiana Antique Machinery Club has restored Main Street’s department store Christmas displays and exhibits them from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays.  Santa will be sitting in the workshop if you would like to visit him or have your picture taken with him.

Christmas Tree Contest. Nineteen area 4-H and extension homemaker clubs decorated trees inside Santa’s Workshop. A donation bucket sits under each tree so visitors can vote for their favorites. Tree themes reflect their decorators. Themes include sunflowers, pink feathers, a frog theme made with recycled soda cans, and contest ribbons. Some donate decorations to charity after the carnival – one has school supplies, and another hats and gloves. Shameless hint: my kids helped with the Tech, Energetics, and Livestock club treese. The Tech treeme is decorated with household items donated by club members which will be donated as a housewarming present to a Habitat for Humanity family after Christmas. The Energetics tree is decorated with Christmas candies the members strung into garland and fashioned into ornaments. The Livestock tree is decorated with animal ornaments which club members made out of recycled soda cans and hollowed out eggs.

Support the 4-H Center. The Vanderburgh 4-H Center is the ONLY Indiana fairgrounds which is a private not-for-profit.  They do not receive government funding to stay open. They survive solely on facility rentals and donations. Your donations at the Winter Carnival help them continue to provide facilities to local 4-H clubs, maintain their playground and basketball goals, and provide a wonderful place for local families to walk and picnic. 

Volunteers from SIAM, the 4-H Center, and over 20 local 4-H and extension homemakers clubs come together to decorate for the Winter Carnival. They provide an affordable Christmas outing for families and hope the donations received help us preserve this local treasure.

Thankful for Pumpkins!

I am thankful for…

Pumpkins.

Pumpkins make me happy. From Labor Day through Thanksgiving, my home is decorated with them. They remind me of the most precious gifts in my life:

My son –a high school freshman, he began raising pumpkins several years ago.  He’s grown varieties from Baby Boo white ones to this year’s experiment with Prizewinner giants – a few of which had to be wheeled out of the garden and lifted by 2 men.  One of his Prizewinners won a Special Merit at the Indiana State Fair and was the largest pumpkin exhibited by an Indiana 4-H member this year. Nine of his pumpkins decorate our front porch, and two are the giant Prizewinners.  Every time I come home or leave, I see our pumpkins, and they make me smile. Another decorated the news set of a local meteorologist.

My daughter – a high school junior, makes pumpkin rolls and pies, which we’ll enjoy this Thanksgiving.

My husband Richard – all through the summer, as we take our son to his pumpkin patch, we watch him work and then get thrill of seeing his exhibit at the State Fair.

Our family – when the harvest is good, we get to share pumpkins with area family members.  Richard’s cousins in New York grow the super giant pumpkins and sent photos to us, which inspired our son to go for the big ones.

Our friends – One of our family friends hosts our son’s pumpkin patch in his large rural garden. He taught our son how to get started with pumpkins and raise them well. When we have a good harvest, we share the fun with pumpkin gifts for friends. Our yard is too small and shady for pumpkin raising.

Jack traded a cow for some bean seeds to grow the vine he climbed to kill a giant. Nothing that dramatic happens in the real world. Our pumpkin seeds cost less than a cow.  We can’t climb the vines and don’t kill giants.  But they are powerful.

This Thanksgiving, we’ll sit around the table, covered with a pumpkin tablecloth and decorated by a pumpkin-shaped candle. I’ll look across the table at Richard and thank God for the blessings our pumpkins remind me to appreciate.

Maybe, for an extra treat,  we’ll start a new family tradition: a pumpkin seed spitting contest!

What reminds you of your most precious gifts this Thanksgiving?

(Today, I was asked to be a guest blogger at Mom Got Blog, writing on the topic, I am thankful for… After I wrote my first piece, I also wrote this one.)

5 Reasons Many 4-H Leaders Last

Last night was our county’s 4-H Achievement Banquet, when we recognize members and leaders. In our county of 800 4-H members, we have 127 leaders who have volunteered a combined total of over 1,280 years.  The volunteer who’s served the longest has helped 44 years.

We live in a world where families move and where most of us are so busy a few help with our kids’ activities but immediately quit when they age out. We juggle jobs, sports, families, and friends and simply don’t have time for more.

Why and how are these leaders who last different? The 4-H roots, originally targetted to agricultural communities, explains it. They are the same traits needed by a farmer.

  1. Vision. Tomorrow’s crops begin with today’s seeds.
  2. Effort. Sweat is essential to every successful farm.
  3. Adaptability. We never know what we will need to do for the crop to thrive.
  4. Teamwork. Everyone of all ages worked to keep the farm going.
  5. Humor. Songs, games, and jokes make days on the farm more fun.

How do these apply to 4-H Leaders? Leaders see the young 3rd grader, nervous about a project demonstration and know it’s the beginning of 9 years of public speaking experiences.

4-H members and leaders learn as much by sweating as they do by doing; they are among the hardest workers I know.

When 4-H began, it taught scientific principles to farm families in crop, livestock, and food production. Project areas change with the times. For example, foods projects no longer give a cookbook approach to making the perfect cookie but teach food safety, nutrition, cooking techniques, cooking in other cultures, food science, and consumer awareness.  Project areas also change with the times – rockets, rockets, and more are now projects as 4-H works to raise up 1 million new scientists.

4-H leadership is often a family affair. Many kids grow up helping their parents as leaders, who then become leaders when they grow up. Some new leaders now help their grandparents, who are also still leaders. That stable leadership network offers a crucial safety net to members, both with and without intact families themselves. 

Finally, you never know what 4-H leaders will do next – one year, the door prize at our Christmas party was – a door.

As a Brownie dropout who never lived on a farm, I became a 4-H leader 5 years ago. I hope some day I’ll be the 40 year volunteer, helped across the stage by my grandchildren 4-H leaders, at an achivement banquet.

Learn by Living – 4H Achievement Records

Accountants have tax season. Greeks have hell week. With 4-H, I have Achievement Week, and this is it.

As chair of our county’s awards committee, I work with a committee that reviews 800 achievement records. Area companies have awarded scholarships which we give so our older members can attend state-level workshops in fields from food science to animal science to engineering. They also send 20 middle school students from our county to a 3-day career exploration workshop at Purdue University. Others send teens to leadership training.

Each 4-H member turns in an achievement record which we review to select award and scholarship trip winners.  We look for a lot more than the prize-winning jelly or grand champion dairy cow.  As we read, we look for the learning experiences that went into the project: experiments, failures, research, and more.  But that’s just the beginning of what we evaluate.  Drilling deeper, we review workshops, demonstrations, field trips, and community service projects that involved those project areas.  It’s not about the ribbon at the fair but about what you learn and how you will share it with the world to build a better community. We look for leadership experiences and activity participation.

Sometimes the project that earned a red ribbon and involved lots of struggles teaches more than a champion. 

I love the fact we nurture such a wide range of project categories that there is room for every member to discover an area of talent and be recognized for it.  Each time they try something new, their confidence grows.

4-H is a microcosm of life.  Our self worth is more than a resume. It’s more than a ribbon at the fair.

“Learn by doing” may be the 4-H motto, but when I see those 4-H records, I think of something else:

“Learn by living.”

A 4-H Robotics Contest with a Twist

My kids have been involved in robotics contests the past 4 years.  They enjoy them, and I love the varied skills learned in a single contest.  First, there are the technical skills: a problem is presented, and a whole team has to work to solve it.  Physics, mechanics, engineering ingenuity, and computer programming are all key elements.  Second, there are team building skills: team members must learn to communicate and work together.

Besides being a parent, I’m a 4-H leader in Evansville, Indiana.  4-H has a major emphasis towards science, engineering, and technology and has a national goal of inspiring 1 million new scientists for our new century.  I began the process to have a robotics project in our county. 

A robotics project wasn’t enough, however.  We needed a club that focused on technology.  I didn’t want a robotics club; when Edison invented the light bulb, were there light bulb clubs? It’s more than robotics.  Our information revolution is the biggest transformer of world culture since the Industrial Revolution, and I wanted our kids to be ready to be the best riders in the world Technological Rodeo.

So we began a Technology Club.  (Actually, the kids in the club voted they didn’t like that name and renamed it Tech Club.)  At each monthly meeting, we have a different workshop topic in engineering, electrical science, aerospace, computers, and physics.  Each member tackles a 4-H project in one of those areas and gives a demonstration each year in one of those areas.

Our county sends several teen 4-H members every summer to participate in science and engineering workshops.  I hope, with our club, we raise the interest in those workshops and the knowledge base of those who participate.

We also organize our county’s robotics contest. The last 2 years, the contest has mirrored other contests in which my kids participate, with teams competing against one another.  Our contest is an impromptu design contest;  kids don’t know until they arrive what the challenge is and have limited time in which to complete it.

This year’s contest adds an element almost out of a reality show.  In addition to the team contest, we will have judges observing the competitors individually.  They will evaluate the competitors both in problem solving and team building skills.  And they will award an individual champion in each of 3 age divisions. I have not seen another robotics contest try this twist and am curious to see how the experiment works.

Problem Solving:

  1. Understands challenges presented and develops strategies to overcome them.
  2. Develops a good robotics design for the challenge.
  3. Assists in robotic programming to meet the challenge.
  4. Demonstrates strong troubleshooting skills.
  5. Is able to make needed adjustments to robotic design or problem solving.

 Team Building: 

  1. Participates on the team.
  2. Communicates constructively with other team members, actively listening to them.
  3. Encourages participation of all team members; pulls strengths from individuals to build a better team.
  4. Takes good care of robot and its parts.
  5. Treats everyone in the robotics contest in a respectful and supportive manner.

My goal is to teach the 4-H members to not only strive to win but to strive to win well.  We’ll know later tonight whether my experiment to mix up the contest is a success or an epic fail.

Either way, our leaders and our club will learn by doing.

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