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A 4-H Resurgence on Martha’s Vineyard

Leona enjoys spending time with horses.

Despite being an island grounded in agriculture, Martha’s Vineyard had not run 4-H clubs for years.  Judy Vollmer, a former Barnstable County 4-H Educator and former Foundation Trustee, helped the Vineyard resurrect its 4-H program before her retirement in 2019. Molly Vollmer, Judy’s daughter and current Plymouth County Educator, then took over maintaining the Vineyard’s enrollment records.

Then, enter the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, a nonprofit organization founded in 1859, which stepped in to take over the day-to-day management of the 4-H program, led by the Society’s 4-H and Program Coordinator Lucy Grinnan. The program has kept growing, and as of October 2023, seven 4-H clubs now operate on the Dukes County Island.

The clubs include Winging It, a bird-watching club run by the Sherrif’s Meadow Foundation. Another club, Paint What You See, introduces painting agrarian subjects to 8–12-year-olds. Its members have submitted paintings to the island’s Agricultural Fair.

Other 4-H clubs concentrate on cooking, photography, or livestock, and there is even a club run by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum that focuses on old-fashioned pursuits such as churning butter and making wool. “Having a variety of clubs can showcase that 4-H is a broad umbrella,” said Lucy.

The longest-running club, led by Slough Farm Executive Director Julie Scott, is the Slough Farm Super Silos. Julie first launched the club in fall 2018 as a Cloverbud club focused on farming, cooking, and art. Dormant during the height of COVID, the Super Silos returned in the Fall of 2022 as an animal science club. The ten members learn about sheep, goats, chickens, cows, pigs, and rabbits, with the Slough Farm Foundation owning the animals.

Henry enjoys a goat’s company.

The club holds a farm animal “Meet and Greet” each June as a 4-H fundraiser. Club members have also staffed the hay bale maze at the island’s Harvest Festival. This year, Super Silos members showed animals at the Vineyard’s Agricultural Fair, some for the first time. “We make sure each child gets some time to focus on the animal they’re interested in,” Julie explained.

Leona, age 9 and a 4th grader, has cared for horses and weighed sheep as a member of the Super Silos. She also participated in the Agricultural Fair by feeding and watering the animals, and holding the rabbits, pigs, and lambs for fair visitors to see. “The horses are my favorite,” said Leona. “4-H has taught me about different animals and how to work in the garden.”

Meanwhile, Lucy and Julie are looking ahead. Lucy would like to see more crossover events between clubs and community service projects. They want to recruit more 4-H leaders to support more clubs.

Julie hopes to strengthen the connection that youth have with agriculture. “This is an agricultural place, and we want people to understand where their food comes from,” explained Julie. “I would love to see more 4-H clubs start up.”

Martha’s Vineyard offers a unique environment for youth to explore 4-H, according to both Lucy and Molly. “I don’t think people realize there are 40 farms on Martha’s Vineyard,” remarked Lucy. While the Vineyard is best known for summer vacationers, agriculture has a huge presence on the island, from the annual Agricultural Fair to each island school boasting its own garden. This makes the need for 4-H more crucial. “The Vineyard has a year-round population in need of programming,” said Molly.


Explore UMass Prepares 4-Hers for Careers

Explore UMass Participants perform a “patient check” during a session in the nursing track.

How often do young people get the opportunity to try out careers in actual workspaces, led by industry experts?

At the Foundation-supported Explore UMass program in June, 4-H youth entering grades 7-11 had the opportunity to sample science careers at UMass Amherst. They also enjoyed the dorm experience and the renowned UMass food! Youth from 4-H clubs and the 4-H STEAM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Arts/Math) program chose a track from the areas of nursing, food science, urban design, and veterinary science to see what a STEM career would be like firsthand.

The nursing track, led by Margaret Kumin from the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, sparked the 4-Hers’ interest with activities such as taking a patient’s vital signs and assessing patient room safety. The youth also learned how to use plants for medicinal purposes.

The youth in the food science track, led by Amanda Kinchla, Associate Professor in the UMass Food Science department, tackled the challenge of mixing the perfect low calorie lemonade by combining different sweetening agents. This enabled them to learn about the chemistry of food. “Their threshold was that their lemonade needed to be 20 calories or less,” explained Lizmarie Ulloa, UMass Program Assistant. In the afternoon, the participants tinkered with gelatin, working to build both the largest and the longest gelatin sculpture they could. Throughout the food science activities, they utilized real food science equipment such as pipettes and scales.

Michael Di Pasquale, Assistant Professor of Regional Planning, led the urban design students in learning about container homes, which are tiny homes made of metal. In the process of building model container homes, the 4-Hers learned how to draw to perspective and scale, just as an architect would, with the same tools. This track provided a unique firsthand look at architecture, according to 4-H Educator Lauren Dubois. “The 4-Hers gained new knowledge about container houses,” Lauren said. “They used all the tools that an urban designer would, and they are in the space that they work in.”

The veterinary tech track, led by Carrie Chickering-Sears, UMass 4-H Animal Program Manager, offered a varied program, from taking the vital signs of horses and sheep to examining parasites under microscopes. The eleven participants were also given details on admission to the UMass Animal Science program.

Kim Pond, 4-H SET Program Manager, described the broader benefits the youth gain from Explore UMass.  “The gain is exposure to different careers and on what college life has to offer,” said Kim. She notes that all are glad to return to the original three-day program format, after Explore UMass had been shortened to one day in 2022.

Seventh graders Dylan and Aeva of the Upton Hoofbeats Club participated in Explore UMass. “My favorite activity was when you had a popsicle stick and you had to balance as many dice on it as you could,” said Dylan.

Both girls followed the food science track and found the lemonade and gelatin activities interesting. “We learned what was in food, and how difficult things in food science can be,” said Aeva. The social aspects of Explore UMass will be just as memorable for the girls. “I liked that we got to be in a dorm with people that we knew,” said Aeva. “I got to be with my cousins and friends from 4-H.”

Explore UMass seeks professional experts to lead tracks in future program years. If you are interested in lending your talents and skills, please contact Kim Pond at [email protected].


4-H Alumnae Bring Their Experience to New Careers

A 4-H Alumna who worked as a STEM Ambassadors, teaching STEM skills to underserved youth in 4-H, and another who worked as an intern with UMass Amherst, gained a variety of skills that positioned them for careers requiring advanced degrees. Read on to see how 4-H set them up for success.

From 4-H STEM Ambassador to Chemistry Teacher: Elina Barrows

Elina Barros

After participating in 4-H and the Upton Hoofbeats Club, Elina Barrows of Upton went on to “pay it forward” as a summer 4-H STEM Ambassador in college, teaching hands-on STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) activities to underserved youth throughout Massachusetts. This was much more than a summer job; her time leading STEM activities led to her future career as a chemistry teacher.

Elina’s road to working as a STEM Ambassador started in 4-H. She served as a Teen Leader in Computer Science and STEM for the 4-H Science program. This role enabled her to travel to Washington DC, where she trained along with 4-Hers from around the country and learned Scratch programming for 4-H science activities. This training solidified her science credentials, and she was hired as a STEM Ambassador.

During the summers of 2018 and 2019, Elina introduced youth to science activities in locations throughout Worcester County. The STEM Ambassadors program explores specific science themes each year, and Elina led both a computer science session and a space and engineering session in which the youth made rockets and launched them.

Elina found her spark lit for teaching during her STEM Ambassadors experience. “I enjoyed meeting the kids and seeing them get excited about science,” she explained. Elina also gained practical instructional skills to help her in teaching. “I learned how to manage a classroom setting and prepare curriculum, set up activities, and balance a schedule.”

After earning her Master’s degree in Chemistry from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Elina now teaches Chemistry in her hometown of Upton.

From UMass Intern to Aspiring Veterinarian: Caitlyn Chernicki

Caitlyn Chernicki

After growing up showing cattle as part of the Farmtastic 4-Hers Club, Caitlyn Chernicki was a natural fit for the role of UMass Animal Science Intern in 2020-21. This work experience also contributed to her pursuing her dream of attending veterinary school.

Following her experience in Massachusetts 4-H, Caitlyn volunteered for the organization, including at the annual Blue Ribbon Calf Sale, where she met Carrie Chickering-Sears, Massachusetts 4-H’s Animal Science Program Manager. Carrie then reached out to Caitlyn and asked her to come aboard as her intern, a perfect step towards the pursuit of her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science/Pre-Vet.

Caitlyn’s primary responsibilities as an Animal Science Intern included developing biweekly webinars about animal science nutrition for 4-Hers and the public.  “I went around and coordinated online with different speakers who could speak about animal science and nutrition,” she explained. Caitlyn also joined the 4-H Beef Advisory Council.

Caitlyn cites both communication skills and animal nutrition as assets she gained from the position. “Learning the nutrition facts and coordinating the people to speak about them was key in pointing me in the direction I wanted to go. Nutrition is key for every species…I also needed to be able to communicate my opinions,” she said.

Caitlyn first witnessed the importance of veterinary science at her family’s farm, Necka Farm. At times, livestock from the farm could not get the care they needed due to a lack of trained veterinarians. Her experience in 4-H also added to her interest. “Going to The Big E and doing the records on my own influenced me to want to continue my education,” she said.

Caitlyn realized her dream in August, when she matriculates at St. George’s University in Grenada, with the goal of becoming a livestock veterinarian. Before that, she worked as a small animal veterinary technician at Morningstar Animal Hospital in Kingston, as well as a large animal veterinary technician for Dr. Karin Kaczorowski, DVM, in Marshfield.

Foundation Announces 2023 Kent Lage Leadership Award Recipients

Hannah Swanson

Hannah Swanson

Hannah Swanson of Westford was awarded the 1st place Kent Lage Leadership Award for 2023. Hannah will attend McGill University in Montreal in the fall.

Hannah currently serves as the President of the Stoneybrook 4-H Saddle Club. She has shown her horse at the Middlesex County 4-H Fair and for the fairgrounds’ show series. She also has participated in the Eastern National 4-H Horse Roundup in Kentucky in both Horse Bowl and Communications. She will represent the Hippology team for the Roundup in 2023.

Hannah contributed to planning horse shows and a recent horse clinic as the youth representative to the Middlesex Horse Advisory Council.

In addition to her 4-H activities, Hannah plays the violin and viola in her school orchestra and teaches violin to four students. She also participated in her school’s Nordic ski team this past winter.


Ella Griswold

Ella Griswold

Ella Griswold, a resident of Hingham, is the 2nd place recipient of the Kent Lage Leadership Award. Ella plans to attend Purchase College, State University of New York and major in Theater Design, Technology & Management.

Ella has been involved in A Round of A-Paws 4-H Club  for the past eight years, serving as President, Secretary and Treasurer. In the club, she participated in dog obedience, agility, and safety activities.

Ella has shown her dog, a Bernese Mountain/Poodle mix, at the Marshfield and East Middleboro Fairs. She also taught “Dog Breed Bingo” at the 4-H Winter Workshops and attended the 4-H National Conference in 2022.

Outside of 4-H, Ella has built sets and stage-managed theater productions, both at Hingham High School and Company Theater in Norwell. She also skis for her school’s ski team.



Raising a Ton of Cattle: Lily Dias and Her Prize-Winning Steer

price winning steer at The Big EFor 4-H alumna Lily Dias, the phrase “farm-to-table” represents much more than a slogan: it describes her family’s livelihood and her 4-H experiences. In 2022, Lily, 19, showed two steers she raised at The Eastern States Exposition, better known as the Big E. One animal was an award-winning, 1,600-pound yellow steer that sold via auction for $16,000 to University of Massachusetts Dining. The mammoth animal earned the Champion Simmental Percentage Steer and the 4-H Highly Commended Heavyweight Steer at The Big E.

Introduced to raising cattle on her family’s farms, Lily learned to market beef to consumers as a member of the Massachusetts League of Protein Producers. She also joined the Future Farmers of America as a student at the Bristol County Agricultural High School (“the Aggie”), where she judged livestock and competed in equine and dairy shows.

Lily honed her animal science skills starting at age 8 with the Fantastic 4-Hers Club in Marshfield and the Tails & Trails 4-H Club in Rochester. In addition to raising steer, Lily judged livestock in 4-H. The steers represented her final projects before aging out of the 4-H program.

4-H instilled in Lily the importance of caring for her cattle, from feeding them to placing them under fans to keep them cool. “4-H helps you gain responsibility. I was at the farm every day,” explained Lily. “You are responsible for the lives of these animals, because they can’t feed themselves.”

Today, Lily continues to spend time showing cattle while taking pride in her 2022 accomplishment. “It was definitely cool to breed, own and sell the steer that sold so high in the auction as my final 4-H project,” said Lily. “I am focusing now on making my herd better and deciding what I want to do for a career.” Lily’s determination and knowledge should lead to many career opportunities!

Eastern National 4-H Horse Roundup

2022 Eastern National 4-H Horse Roundup Team for Massachusetts

2022 Eastern National 4-H Horse Roundup Team

Few activities enable youth to visit the home of the Kentucky Derby, but the Massachusetts 4-H Horse Program does! For many years, youth have enjoyed the trip to Louisville, Kentucky, to compete in the Eastern National 4-H Horse Roundup held at the Kentucky Fair & Expo Center.

Sixteen senior 4-Hers embarked on this four-day trip to compete in contests including Communications, Hippology, Horse Judging, and Horse Bowl. The four teams consist of youth who may show horses competitively and all are members of 4-H horse clubs in Massachusetts. This year, the members of the Massachusetts 4-H Horse Communications Team distinguished themselves with a first-place finish in the competition. The Horse Bowl, Hippology, and Horse Judging teams all competed well in their respective categories. All participants sharpened their leadership skills in problem solving and teamwork while improving their written, verbal, and interpersonal communication skills.

Darlene Welch, the winning Horse Communications team’s coach and a former Foundation Trustee, believes the trip is incredibly valuable for 4-Hers. While in Louisville, the youth visit Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby Museum, Kentucky Horse Park, and Claiborne Farm, the final resting place of the famed horse, Secretariat. “They get a chance to travel to a part of the United States rich in horse history,” said Darlene.

This competition puts many of the skills that youth learn through 4-H into action. The Communications team start their preparation for the competition in the spring, practicing for four to five months. Though they begin their quest at the county level, their presentations may evolve as they move from local to state to national competitions.

Sophia and Suzie, the Winning Horse Communications Team

Sophia and Suzie, the Winning Horse Communications Team

Their leadership and teamwork skills are put into practice as they compete in three divisions of the Horse Communications contest: Public Speaking, Individual, and Team (two participants). Each contestant or team is assigned a specific timeslot. Public speaking participants talk for up to ten minutes, individuals speak for up to 12 minutes, and teams talk for up to 15 minutes. Entrants are penalized if they go over the time limits.

Following the presentation, the contestants take questions from judges. “Questions can hurt a team if they don’t know their subject really well,” explained Darlene. Selecting a speech topic can be tricky; it must be age appropriate. “The most challenging part is that the process is subjective, the judges may or may not like the topic,” said Darlene.

Susan Barrows, who competed in the 2022 Team Presentation, found the competition challenging for two reasons. “It’s definitely a lot of teamwork, having to speak at the same level of enthusiasm and volume,” she said. She also noted that each team member is required to talk for the same amount of time, including during the question segment.

Susan shared that visiting Louisville has been rewarding. “The biggest benefit is the experience. I have met some of my best friends on this trip, and I enjoy meeting people who share my interests. The experience is incredible and teaches us things that we cannot learn here.”

Giana Biagioni: Leading the Next Generation in Agriculture

In November 2022, Giana Biagioni of Littleton won the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmer & Rancher Collegiate Discussion Meet, earning a $300 prize and qualifying her for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Collegiate Discussion Meet in Jacksonville, FL in March 2023.

As a Farm and Resource Management Major at Central Wyoming College, Giana learned of the state discussion meet from a professor while in class. She volunteered to participate. “I wanted to learn about current issues in the farm industry,” she explained.

The topics for the meet focused on current farming and ranching issues such as climate change and drone technology. Students gave opening statements, analyzed questions, and proposed solutions involving the Farm Bureau.

“Because I’ve grown up doing Visual Presentations and public speaking in 4-H, I didn’t find the discussion meet difficult,” said Giana. “It was fun to interact with other students my age.” Giana has also shown horses at the 4-H and county levels and participated in community service projects as a member of both the Littleton Hack and Tack and the Pepperell Trailblazers clubs.

After college, Giana hopes to pursue cattle ranching and produce beef cows. Another goal is to own a stock contracting company that would raise bulls and horses for rodeos. For now, she looks forward to the Collegiate Discussion Meet. “I am honored to represent Wyoming at the national competition in March,” she said. “I am very excited to discuss the future of agriculture with other young minds.”


Teens Introduce Agriculture to Teens in Lots to Plots

Hope, 4-H Educator Meg Riley, and Owen enjoy the Ag Summit.

Do you really know where your food comes from?

You may know something about the subject, but most likely not nearly as much as Hope Healy and Owen Weigel, 4-Hers who initiated the Lots to Plots project. Because of their efforts, the teens were recognized by the National 4-H Council earlier this year and awarded a $2,000 grant to combat food deserts in Massachusetts and provide an “on-ramp to agriculture” for teens.

“Their hard work paid off,” said Meghan Riley, a 4-H Educator in Plymouth County who has mentored the teens. “As far as keeping teens as active and engaged as possible, this project hit the nail on the head.”

During the pandemic and the 2020-21 school year, Hope and Owen, along with Sofia Black, Faith Motta, and Hope Motta, decided to address Massachusetts’ growing problem of food insecurity, which impacts 40% of the state’s population. They believed that gardening could not only be a valuable way to address this issue but also become a “bridge” between urban and rural settings. In other words, they could engage teens in agriculture — even those in urban settings —through their project, Lots to Plots.

The teens started brainstorming project ideas while meeting virtually. They noted that lower-income households have less access to healthy food than affluent families, and that they could adapt agricultural practices on a small scale for teens. Lots to Plots was born. “We’re going to put plants in their hands… You live in New York City? You can still have plants,” explained Hope.

An important step along the way: Hope and Owen attended the National 4-H Youth Summit for Agriscience (or “Ag Summit”) in Bethesda, Maryland in March 2022, assisted with support from the Massachusetts 4-H Foundation. Owen, from Rochester, and Hope, from Plymouth, both now juniors in high school, met youth and experts from all over the country at the conference. They took workshops led by industry leaders and managed to squeeze in a bit of sightseeing, touring Washington D.C. monuments at night.

Owen, who lives on a farm where his family raises beef and poultry, had never visited an urban area before. He met teens from New Jersey who wanted to garden but didn’t have enough land or money, reinforcing the importance of Lots to Plots. Owen found learning about other teens’ experiences and building a network to be the most valuable parts of the Summit.

Hope shared Owen’s enthusiasm. “The Ag Summit was incredible… Learning about the ag career exploration was most valuable to me. Hearing from experts, especially the female speakers, and where they’ve gone in their ag careers was really cool to me.”

The teens then submitted a two-page project proposal to the National 4-H Council for a solution to an agricultural issue, and following its approval delivered a presentation via Zoom to industry leaders in late April. Their efforts resulted in a $2,000 grant, one of 12 grants awarded by the National 4-H Council for projects from across the country.

Teens plant sugar snap peas in hanging baskets during the first workshop of Lots to Plots.

To kickoff Lots to Plots, the 4-Hers held a series of three workshops this past summer for teens at the Plymouth County Center for Agriculture. They focused on youth from urban areas. The 4-Hers guided the teens in planting, harvesting, and achieving soil health, and used window boxes and other techniques so the attendees encountered few barriers to entry in exploring agriculture. “I think it’s great for people in urban areas, because they don’t get as much exposure to agriculture,” said Owen. “It’s so important for society and our planet.”

It also put the 4-Hers firmly in the role of educators; they shared the knowledge they have gained through their years in 4-H. “The biggest value of this project is the teens’ confidence and understanding that they know so much about this subject… They are already leaders in this field. They are at the point where they can share this knowledge with kids who haven’t had their experiences,” explained Meghan.

Most of the funds from the grant were put toward consumables such as seeds, soil, and compost, and the participants kept seedlings to take home, explained Meghan. The 4-Hers will survey the attendees for feedback following the three workshops. They hope that Lots to Plots continues beyond the summer and that its attendees eventually join 4-H.

Hope, Owen, and the other teens are still astounded at how far their idea has gone. “If you could get involved in something, do it,” advised Hope. “You don’t know how big it will get.”

Creating Urgency Around Climate Change

Good Shepherd 4-H Club Members Joshua, Katie, Sofia, and Justin pose with the sheep they raise and use for sustainable projects.

Throughout 2022, the Massachusetts 4-H program, Community Service Learning Initiative introduced youth to ways they can make an impact on a current issue, beginning with youth mental health and followed by food insecurity. From May to August, 4-Hers explored the theme of climate change, with the goal for youth to learn and become motivated to make changes locally. The participants listened to the experts, evaluated resources, and implemented improvements in their own backyards. “The youth are taking it more seriously than a lot of adults, “said Angelica Diaz-Heyman, a 4-H Educator.

At the kickoff Zoom meeting to the Climate Change Community Service initiative, Dr. Justin Gay, an ecologist and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, gave 4-Hers a talk entitled “Global Climate Change: The Science and Emerging Solutions.” Dr. Gay opened the talk with a short NASA video of the progression of Earth’s surface temperatures over the last 150 years through a presentation of satellite data. “This is just one of the multiple lines of evidence that unequivocally supports the fact that humans have drastically altered the chemistry of the atmosphere, and this has led to global climate change,” says Dr. Gay.

Shealyn Malone, a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, highlighted one of the many ways climate change impacts global ecosystems by presenting a case study about forests. Healthy and functioning forests remove large quantities of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis and store it in their biomass. However, high temperatures, more frequent drought, and increased pressure from herbivores, like bark beetles, may hinder the ability of trees to store carbon and contribute to climate change. The two scientists also shared with 4-Hers resources from the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the United Nations, and Youth Climate Action Now (YCAN) on how to reduce their own carbon footprints.

4-H youth have started to take action in a variety of ways.  Madelyn, 16, a member of the Horse Feathers 4-H Club in Norfolk, initiated a project that addressed climate change as well as youth mental health. She collected old sneakers to keep them out of landfills and sent them to GotSneakers, a sneaker recycling company. She then donated the proceeds to an organization that helps people who suffer from eating disorders. Madelyn has also made small changes in her daily life to help climate change. She turns the lights off before exiting a room and tries to walk or take public transportation instead of driving. “Climate change is important…I do things to make a difference,” she explained.

The Good Shepherd Sheep 4-H Club in Littleton has also taken steps to reduce its carbon footprint. In addition to caring for sheep they own, club members raise chickens and grow vegetables, according to Lisa Besse, the club’s leader.  During the pandemic years of 2020-21, the youth donated vegetables — 85 pounds in 2021 —and eggs to low-income residents in their town, enabling those residents to access local, healthy food. Good Shepherd members have also brought sheep fertilizer to be used at Littleton Community Farm. Most notably, club members have submitted a proposal to a local corporation to have the sheep “mow” around and below its solar fields, to avoid sending harmful gasoline mower emissions into the air. These sustainability practices center around helping others. “The 4-Hers learn to help other people, that the world is bigger than themselves,” said Lisa.

AmeriCorps engaged youth in “Love Your Local Water” activities at the Barnstable Fair.

This past summer, 4-H participated in the Barnstable County Fair and engaged youth in activities that illustrated the importance of water, such as using a coffee filter with markers to show how water travels. 4-H invited AmeriCorps to run fair activities about the water resources on Cape Cod.

4-H Educators also have encouraged more gardening and composting in 4-H clubs, with the goal of these activities “informing the youths’ projects over the course of the year,” said Angelica. Small changes add up!


Massachusetts 4-H Program to Reopen

Today, the Massachusetts 4-H program, following the guidance of the state of Massachusetts, announced it will be reopening to an in-person mode of delivery.

This decision gives clubs and groups the opportunity to meet again, work on their projects, and participate in fairs. This document includes all of the details about the reopening.

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