Wednesday, 10 August 2011 15:56

Almost at the century mark and 4-H still going strong in southern Alberta

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By Jamie Woodford
Southern Alberta
Nearly 100 years old, 4-H clubs across Alberta are still going strong.
In 2010 and 2009, southern Alberta boasted the largest number of 4-H clubs than the rest of the province.

“We have 66 clubs, which is the largest number of clubs in the province,” said Ginny Smith, 4-H regional co-ordinator.

With nearly 1,100 members and 325 volunteer leaders across southern Alberta, Smith said 4-H is still very much a vibrant part of the agriculture industry.

“Our numbers are actually pretty good. For a while it was kind of going in a little a bit of a downward trend, but we’ve been holding steady for the last four, five years maybe,” she said. “I think (membership) is an incredible testament to the value of 4-H and people still see it.”

4-H clubs are required to have a minimum of eight members, although some smaller, more rural clubs may be given a grace period to bolster their numbers.

Smith said at one point there was some concern membership would dive as children got older and no new younger children joined up, but that worry was unfounded.

“What I noticed this year at some of the beef shows is a lot more younger kids,” she said. “As they get older you lose them, and it was maybe a little bit of a concern there for a couple years whether there was going to be some young kids coming in to the different programs, but they are.”

Jim Welsch, steer leader of the Foothills 4-H Beef Club in Pincher Creek said enrolment in his area is somewhat on the decline.

“I can only speak for the beef club... and it’s been a loyal following of the families that have been involved, but now those kids are getting older and graduating, and there’s very few new members coming back in,” he said.

Between the two Pincher Creek 4-H Beef Clubs, Foothills and Timbertrails, there are 22 members.

“I remember when I was involved in it there was 50 in our club alone,” said Welsch.

He and other leaders in the area are working on developing new ways to rejuvenate interest in the club. One idea is to bring back a sheep program.

“There isn’t any more sheep clubs in the area, but we were perhaps thinking of maybe trying that,” he said.

“We’re always trying to talk with people with young kids that we think that would perhaps be interested in joining, but really there’s not that many new young people starting up in the ranching business. Country people are kind of declining. That’s what we’ve found here.”

Jenni Nish, leader of the Cardston Chinook 4-H Beef Club said her club is holding on at 32 members strong.

“Our’s has been steady for the last couple of years,” she said. “We have lots of families. I think the biggest family we have, they have five kids in 4-H.”

Nish said the club advertises membership registration every year, but it doesn’t necessarily need to go that extra mile to generate interest.

“We’re more than willing to have more (members), but we’re  not having to look for needing more because there’s quite a few.”

Beef clubs remain the strongest project in southern Alberta 4-H clubs, with horses in second, but multi-clubs are  becoming more and more popular, said Smith.

Multi-clubs offer diverse projects from photography to woodworking, small engines and canine projects — one of the fastest growing interests within 4-H.

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