I’m hoping we can have a conversation about getting youth excited about permaculture, maybe without them knowing they are getting excited about permaculture.
This post is specifically about 4-H in the US, the organization with which I am most familiar, but the concepts ought to be applicable to any youth organization anywhere. (For more information on the 4-H program itself, you can take a look at https://4-h.org/about/what-is-4-h/, although I don’t think you need to know the specifics of the program to understand this post.)
To set the stage, let me expose some of my bias for starting with 4-H. While I was not a member as a youth, I have been involved as a project leader and a parent for quite a few years. I’ve led projects in a wide variety of subjects: cavies (aka guinea pigs), poultry, rangeland, public speaking, robotics, dutch oven cooking, and maybe others I can’t remember off the top of my head. At the county level I sit on the 4-H Leaders Council and the Market Livestock Committee and I am a poultry superintendent for our county fair. I also am on the state of Idaho’s 4-H Advisory Committee and the 4-H Youth Development Budget Committee. I judge 4-H projects and animals at county fairs in the area. I am ingrained in this program.
There is a lot I love about the program, beginning with the 4-H pledge which enumerates the four Hs:
I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
My heart to greater loyalty,
My hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.
I love that we help members develop leadership skills while learning how to raise plants and animals, how to create clothing and meals and woodwork and handcrafts and photographs, and how to develop and use scientific and technological knowledge. I love seeing youth gain confidence as they build skills and increase their abilities. I love seeing them improve their communication and leadership competencies.
So what are the drawbacks? The projects are very siloed. The poultry project is about raising poultry. The gardening project is about gardening. The cooking project is about cooking. We do not do a very good job connecting the dots for these members in what I sometimes think of as a liberal arts kinds of way. (And while it’s been decades since I was in the Boy Scouts, my memory says the individual merit badge projects were conducted in the same ways, disconnected and isolated from each other.)
My dream is to create better integration across projects. I imagine members coming together in the cooking project to create an omelette made with eggs raised in the poultry project, cheese made in the dairy foods project from milk gathered from the dairy goat project, along with parsley, sage, and thyme raised in the garden project. I imagine the ducks and the goats being fed from the gardens, and the manure from the animals being turned into compost to be returned to the plant beds. Add in knowledge from the wildlife and entomology and ecology and financial management and veterinary science projects, and you’ve got some pretty amazing expertise.
I wouldn’t expect every member would participate in every project, but that each would bring their individual prowess to joint gatherings where we discuss how the projects connect and can build on each other. This would also promote community too, as each member would be simultaneously developing broad knowledge in multiple disciplines allowing for collaboration, along with a deep proficiency in specific areas (e.g. T-shaped skills).
I’m not exactly sure how to facilitate this type of learning in my club or county, but I’d sure like to try a few things and see what happens.
Has anyone had experience with this? Are there other youth organizations across the country or around the world that are working in this way? Would this get youth interested in permaculture (regardless of whether we use that word)? Anybody interested in exploring the possibilities with me?
Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation. --Oysterband
4-H is awesome! It's a democratic school of life skills. It can get competitive amongst some, but when I was in it, it was much more collaborative. I wonder if you couldn't have a permacultue project in 4-H? As for something to show at fairs, the kids could show a design by 3D art or 2D? The judge could judge based on functionality?
Yeah, in holistic management we look at everything as a resource and then we use the most appropriate resource so we don't waste resources, which includes our own energy. In other words, why reinvent the wheel?
Work smarter, not harder.
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