This story is another in a weekly series called "Planting the Seed: Science for the New Millennium." These stories feature ideas and advances in agricultural and environmental sciences with implications for the future.
When 4-H began, almost 100 years ago, children were focused on helping on the family farm, learning homemaking skills and trying to get to school. The 4-H Club was established to help rural youth learn by doing.
Who had the very first 4-H Club is hotly debated.
Georgia claims the first club was the Boys Corn Club established in Covington, Ga., in 1904. A girls canning club quickly followed in Hancock County. However, Springfield, Ohio, has the earliest claim in 1902.
In 1914, when Congress established the Cooperative Extension Service, 4-H Clubs were made a part of the organization and have been administered through the land-grant institutions in each state ever since.
"We are recognizing the Centennial of the 4-H Club in 2002," said Susan Stewart, director of the National 4-H Congress. "The National 4-H Congress will be held in Atlanta over Thanksgiving weekend through the Centennial celebration."Changing Face of 4-H
Regardless of when the club actually began, be assured the 4-H Club of the next millennium isn't your grandparents' 4-H Club.
"It's not just agriculture any more," said John Williams, a 4-H'er from Doughtery County, and a member of the 1999 National 4-H Congress leadership committee. "It's a whole new experience."
As the world changed over the last century, so did 4-H. When man was headed to the moon, 4-H introduced new programs and projects like rocketry, electronics and frozen foods.
"4-H has always been evolving," said Bo Ryles, Georgia's state 4-H program leader. "That's how we have remained relevant to the lives of children in this state and across the county."New 4-H Focus
Today's 4-H'ers focus on leadership, community service and technology. While still grounded in its rural roots, 4-H has grown to meet the needs of all of America's youth – rural, urban and suburban alike.
"Character education is a big issue for us in the coming years," Ryles said. "Ethical issues are a major concern for young people today, as well as their parents."
According to Public School Teachers in the U.S., the greatest issues facing youth during the 1940s were: talking out of turn, chewing gum, running in the halls, making noise, dress code infractions, littering and cutting in line. That list today includes: alcohol abuse, drug abuse, pregnancy, rape suicide, robbery and assault.
A national survey of youth ethics conducted by the National 4-H Congress this summer showed that the four major concerns of America's young people are peer pressure, lack of parental involvement, substance abuse and sexual activity.
"In Georgia 4-H, we will also be focusing on urban agricultural issues, and will continue emphasis on environmental education," Ryles said.
A recent survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that of the more than 6.5 million 4-H Club members nationwide, most are enrolled in projects that are centered on plants and animals, healthy lifestyle education, science and technology or communication and expressive arts.
Georgia has more than 138,000 4-H members enrolled in clubs. More of Georgia's 4-H'ers live in central cities than live on farms. The largest number of 4-H'ers, 41.3 percent, live in rural, non-farm areas. Thirty-two percent live in small towns and cities of 10,000 to 50,000.
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)