An insect, the boll weevil, helped to give birth to one of the greatest youth organizations in Alabama; 4-H.
Cotton was the main crop for farmers in Alabama for many years. In the early 1900s, the boll weevil moved from Texas to Alabama with cataclysmic results. Farmer’s yielded 75% less cotton because of damage inflicted by the boll weevil. After the boll weevil’s devastation to cotton, the wisdom of relying on one crop was called into question.
The US Department of Agriculture had begun hiring Farm Agents to teach improved methods of farming a few years before. Diversified and new methods of farming were the main goals. Growing corn for profit was introduced in Alabama. It could be eaten, fed to the livestock and sold for cash. The only problem was trying to convince the farmers that growing different crops and applying new farming methods would increase their profits.
After much thought, the Agents organized Boys’ Corn Clubs. These clubs not only taught new farming techniques to boys in hope that these practices would be passed on to parents, but incentives were offered for growing corn. The young man that harvested the most corn from his one acre won $25. Their families became involved and diversified farming was off and running.
Not to be outdone, girls formed their own clubs three years later under the tutelage of part-time women agents. The girls grew one-tenth acre of tomatoes and canned them. The three-leaf clover became the symbol of club work, standing for heart, hands and head. It was later suggested that a fourth “H” be added to the design and should stand for “hustle”. The four-leaf clover was then adopted; however, “hustle” was later replaced with “health”.
During the next few years, clubs increased by leaps and bounds: Pig, Corn, Peanut, Calf and Canning clubs. The clubs were formed not only in Alabama, but all across the nation. These clubs predated the Cooperative Extension which was formed in 1914; however, they became a part of Extension. Today, the Cooperative Extension supports 4-H Clubs throughout the USA.
4-H members across the nation neared 500,000 during World War I and club youth contributed tremendously to the war effort by increasing food production, teaching and learning conservation and many other activities.
Today, youth programs modeled after 4-H can be found all around the world. Boys and girls learn how to acquire knowledge, develop life skills and form attitudes that will enable them to become self-directing, productive and contributing members of society. 4-H teaches the importance of making yourself, your club, your community, your country and your world better.
The Cullman 4-H Clubs are alive and well. There is one regional agent, an assistant agent and several volunteers who make up 4-H leadership in Cullman. There are school clubs, community clubs and specialty clubs including, junior master gardener, archery, shotgun, wildlife, horse, cooking, crafts and sewing. A robotics club, forestry and geospatial club is being considered. There are over 25 different projects boys and girls can do, from public speaking to sci-tech.
If your child is not in a school 4-H Club and would like to be involved in the Community Club, which meets one evening a month beginning in October, contact the Cullman Extension Office at 256-737-9386.