Delegates share 4-H experience at global conference

For someone who bleeds 4-H green, the opportunity to meet like-minded people from around the globe who share the same passion was too good to pass up. For Emily Letendre, who has participated at every level of 4-H, from club to national, that chance to share her experiences at the Global 4-H Network Summit is one she will never forget.

“It was such an exciting opportunity and I was so pleased to be chosen as one of less than a dozen participants from Saskatchewan,” says Letendre. “I am passionate about 4-H and it was amazing to get the chance to speak with people from so many different cultures, and to get a broader understanding of what 4-H means to people in different cultures.”

With attendance by more than 600 people from 27 countries, the Global 4-H Network Summit was truly an international event. The second summit of its kind was held in mid-July in Ottawa, Ontario, where 4-H youth, volunteers and professionals came together to network with one another, share experiences and discuss the role for 4-H globally going forward.

“This summit was an incredible opportunity for 4-H members to connect to talk about issues that are common among them and about the things that make them unique,” says Jennifer Christie, event chair at Global 4-H Network Summit. “It was quite the feat to bring such a diverse group together. The event has grown significantly since our first Summit three years ago in Seoul, South Korea. Now we are able welcome more groups, from emerging economies, such as those in Africa, that showcase the potential of 4-H.”

Internationally, a board of directors made of up representatives from the five global regions govern the Global 4-H Network, which consists of over 70 independent, country-led 4-H programs. While in Canada 4-H involvement is extracurricular, in countries like Kenya it is part of the school curriculum. In the U.S., which has the largest 4-H contingent, citybased clubs are starting to gain momentum, with increased focus on new technologies, food and the environment.

4-H is ingrained in the history of rural Canada, with a focus on farming and ranching. But as more people move away from rural areas, the organization is reinventing itself to offer leadership skills, public speaking opportunities and community building — things 4-H is known for — to youth across Canada. And this focus on expansion is working. After years of declining membership, 4-H Canada added 600 new members in 2016.

The conference was modelled around the four “pillars” of 4-H Canada: Community Engagement and Communications, Science and Technology, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security, and The Environment and Healthy Living. As a long-time partner of 4-H, Bayer sponsored the science and technology day, welcoming presentations and panel discussions all with a focus on scientific exploration.

“The science and technology day fits well into our mandate of “science for a better life,” says Paul Thiel, VP product development and regulatory science for Bayer. “Supporting youth in this area is one of many things we have in common with 4-H and that’s part of the reason we have been partners for many years. We are advocates for modern agriculture to both our rural and urban audiences and we are pleased we had the chance to show that to 4-H members on that day.”

“As an organization, Bayer works to foster innovation, so it was a natural fit,” adds Christie. “The science and tech day provided participants the opportunity to learn best practices to demonstrate science in our everyday lives, from the kitchen to were encouraged to participate in handson workshops, learned how to use the scientific method and discovery model and explored how science will enhance agriculture into the future.”

Letendre participated in the clinics and events, and also spoke during the science and technology day to share her experience in the 4-H National Science Fair. Her project studied the effects of oregano on chickens — to determine if adding oregano to feed could reduce ammonia in the air and salmonella in the feces, creating a safer work environment. She says that her experience with 4-H helped develop her comfort level speaking in front of crowds and also in engaging people on a more personal level.

“I spoke with people who are working on scientific projects of all manner,” she says. “There are so many unique ideas out there that help all aspects of agriculture, and even those who are using 4-H to help them pursue other interests. As an animal biology science major at the University of Saskatchewan, I have seen my ideas tested at the university level and my goal is to move it from a 4-H project to a PhD level one. At the conference I was able to see what others were doing and to share ideas and input.”

Bayer employees also participated in a showcase panel that discussed different perspectives. Sesh Iyengar, director regulatory science, talked about Bayer’s experience in science and technology programming as a passionate proponent of science fairs. Komie Hossini, communications business partner with Bayer hosted a session that discussed Bayer’s Youth Ag-Summit, which has been held in Calgary, Australia and will next be in Brussels. Mary Compton, regulatory affairs coordinator, discussed how Bayer’s mentorship program helped her with her career and what mentorship could mean for younger employees going forward.

Hands-on workshops were tailored to either youth or professional audiences, all with the 4-H idea of “learning to do by doing” behind them. “I think events such as these will bring in youth from all types of communities to see the impact they can make — whether that be in food safety, technology or even cooking,” says Thiel. “There is also tremendous value in allowing Canadian members to see how youth, agriculture and science interact around the world, and for us to share our experience.”

The next Global 4-H Network Summit will take place in 2020 in Tanzania. The location was chosen to represent the growth in 4-H throughout Africa, and to continue to encourage youth participation in the coming years. The organization hopes to make an even bigger impact going forward and to help equip newer countries with the tools they need to understand the benefits of strong youth involvement.