McCONNELLS -- At 16 years old, Whitney Templeton is a junior in the choir at York Comprehensive High. She dresses up as the school's Cougar mascot at football games and plays on the softball team.
And she raises and shows sheep as a member of 4-H.
"I've shown cows and chickens and even pigs," Whitney said. "I love 4-H. Farming is a part of who I am, and a lot of others, too."
Roots in rural America
4-H, which stands for Head, Heart, Hands and Health, is an international organization devoted to teaching children life and leadership skills. It has deep roots in the farms and ranches of a rural America that has dwindled to less than 2 percent of the population as the country becomes more urban.
In western York County and Chester County, where rural farm heritage remains even as suburbia and city life takes over to the east and north, 4-H is one of the ways that the farm culture stays alive.
Friday morning, Clemson University Extension staffers from both counties and current and past 4-H members taught about two dozen younger children as small as kindergarten age that raising goats and calves can be hip.
The 4-H club in York County has about 20 members between ages 5 and 19, with more in Chester County. The two adults who run the 4-H club went through the program themselves. Abbey Clinton, 25, and Katie Knight, 24, are both elementary school teachers who paid for most of their college educations through scholarships and prize money won through 4-H and livestock shows. Both ladies were raised on farms, and rave that 4-H teaches the self-esteem, discipline, leadership and responsibility that each teaches in the classroom.
"Hard work, respect, dedication, those values are part of 4-H and life," Clinton said.
4-H helps ensure the farming culture that she grew up with in western York County does not vanish, Knight said.
Lots of hard work
Raising animals for show isn't a quick job. Heifers require 18 months before a 4-H member has completed the program and the animal can be sold at a livestock market. Goats and sheep and Golden Comet chickens need special programs of feeding, grooming and care to make them ready to win ribbons at county and state fairs and livestock shows. The county's annual fall livestock show where 4-H kids will compete is Sept. 8 and 9.
Showing animals at competitions is not a "show up with a cow with a bell around its neck" deal. Chester County livestock agent Brian Beer, a 4-H alumnus himself, told the children Friday that judges look for proper dress and respect from showers and animals that are in top condition. An untrained eye might say big deal, a cow is a cow. Show animals are judged on muscle, coat and other factors.
"If you have to cry, do it outside the show ring," Beer said. "And don't argue with the judge."
City girl goes country
Some younger York County children such as Charlie and Bailey Westbrook are already stalwarts in the program. Sherry Sadler was a city girl until she married a farmer. Now her two children, Will, 10, and Brooke, 8, are ready to start raising and showing animals after their mother became a farm girl herself and the children watched the Westbrook children win.
Lizzie Chapple, 16, has shown animals in 4-H for nine years. She wears a scarf and sunglasses on her head like a movie star. And she has taken a little calf and turned it into a $2,000 heifer.
"There are a few who might call us farm geeks, but I love my animals," she said. "This is cool."
In 1902, A.B. Graham, a school principal in Ohio, began to promote vocational agriculture in rural schools in out-of-school clubs, thus marking the beginning of the 4-H. Passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 enabled county and local leaders to organize 4-H programs, with the four H's standing for head, heart, hands and health. Today, more than 7 million youths in rural and urban areas in the U.S. and other countries participate in 4-H programs.
-- Source: www.4husa.org