Thursday, April 24, 2014 · 11:27 a.m.
A past Hamilton County 4-H Chick Chain grand champion. (Photo: Hamilton County 4-H Club)

Since its inception in the early 1900s, the 4-H Club has stood behind the idea that youth are a strongest catalyst for change.

The organization was started by community leaders who found that many adults in rural farming communities did not readily accept new agricultural developments. So they began training young people who were open to new ideas and would experiment and share their experiences with adults. The 4-H program is said to have started in Clark County, Ohio, when A.B. Graham started youth clubs known as the "Tomato Club" and the "Corn Growing Club" in 1902.

4-H began in the early 1900s as a tool to introduce new agriculture technology within rural communities and to develop young people’s interest in agriculture and animal science. (Photo: Paul Sauerbry 4-H scrapbook)

Thus, 4-H (which stands for "head, heart, hands and health") began as a tool to introduce new agricultural technology within communities and a way to develop young people’s interest in agriculture and animal science.

One of the largest youth organizations in the nation today, the 21st-century version of the 4-H Club has expanded programming beyond agriculture and animal husbandry to include topics such as robotics, conservation, cooking, clothing and textiles, shooting sports, entomology, and gardening, to name a few. The program is free and open to students in grades four through 12.

In Tennessee, 94 of the state's 95 counties offer 4-H programs (Lake County, Tenn., does not). The Hamilton County 4-H Club has 1,800 participants, according to Nancy Rucker, extension agent and county director of the Hamilton County Extension Center.

"The 4-H program develops life skills through hands-on learning, and students are able to work and develop skills and knowledge in a particular area," Rucker said.

Hamilton County 4-H offers a wide range of opportunities for students and families through various after-school programs, in-school enrichment programs, clubs and summer camps.

Two companion animal project groups meet once a month in the Soddy-Daisy area: One is focused on horses and the other on rabbits.

A 4-H Club Poland China pig grand champion in the 1950s. (Photo: Kentucky 4-H)

"The 4-H companion animal groups offer opportunities for young people to get hands-on learning experiences with animals," Rucker said. Students learn husbandry skills, animal science and even judging skills pertaining to competitions at county fairs and national animal shows.

Another popular 4-H program is the Chick Chain, which teaches students and their families how to raise chickens. After participating in an educational class, students are given 12 baby chicks (egg-laying hens) in the early spring. That fall, Chick Chain participants select three chickens to show at competition and auction off at the Hamilton County Fair. Each participant receives the money from the sale of their chickens.

Recent programmatic additions to Hamilton County 4-H include an archery club and GIS/GPS technology project group.

"The general public doesn’t realize all that 4-H has to offer—we have a place for everybody," Rucker said.

The county office also offers public programs. Each fall before the Hamilton County Fair, Hamilton County 4-H hosts an AgVenture event for fourth-graders. Participating classes spend a morning rotating through hands-on educational stations that relate to agriculture in this region.

To learn more about 4-H or to find a program near you, visit the UT Extension Tennessee 4-H website.

Jenni Frankenberg Veal enjoys writing about the natural world and exploration opportunities found within the southeastern United States, one of the most biologically and recreationally rich regions on earth. Visit her blog at

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