- Author: Mike Hsu
If you're on a video call with Glenda Humiston when she's in her home office, you'll see the sign right above her left shoulder, prominently displayed: “4-H CLUB MEMBER LIVES HERE.”
It's the same sign that hung on her childhood home in Mancos, Colorado, in the remote southwest corner of the state. And the sign is a symbol of the influential role 4-H has played in the life and career path of Humiston, University of California's vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
“I asked if I could have it, and my dad was like, ‘Yeah, sure, I think it belongs with you' – which really annoyed my sisters, quite frankly,” she said with a laugh. “But I love having it.”
Humiston – and all four of her younger sisters – were active in 4-H during the late 1960s and 1970s. Joining the Mancos club as soon as she was able to, at roughly nine years of age, Humiston participated through high school. She even did collegiate 4-H at Colorado State University.
For National 4-H Week (Oct. 1–7), Humiston – who leads UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, the umbrella organization under which California 4-H operates – sat down for an interview about the profound impact of 4-H on her life.
You started out by showing dairy cattle and beef cattle, but you quickly broadened the scope of your 4-H experience. What else did you do in 4-H?
I did a lot of projects, not just showing the livestock – I did veterinary sciences; I did demonstration talks; I did conservation; I did woodworking. In fact, I got Reserve Grand Champion at the Colorado State Fair in woodworking one year. I made a tack box for showing livestock; I did some inlaid imagery in it. I also did a nice piece that I donated to the National 4-H Center in D.C. that, for many years, was their big artwork in the lobby that you see when you enter. [See photo at right.]
I also really enjoyed public speaking; I competed in that. Part of that was strategic – everybody turns in beef or something like that, and not very many kids were doing record books on public speaking, so I thought it gave me better odds. [Record books are kept by 4-H participants to document their progress on a project and can be submitted for competitions.]
I actually have one of my speeches about being an environmentalist when I was quite young. A little ahead of my time there. My mother said I was a very preachy child – and that was one of the times that I was!
Of the many wonderful experiences you had, what are some of your favorite aspects and memories of 4-H?
I really love the record book. I think that's one of the things about 4-H that makes it different than a lot of other youth programs. We were taught to keep a record – particularly important for showing market animals – including accounting and keeping our books: like how much did we spend on that animal and on feed and equipment. At a young age, you're learning a lot of life skills that way.
And things like the community engagement, the public speaking, these are all important skills that you just don't get unless you're out there actually doing something with it. Sitting in a classroom is not the same.
How did 4-H open your eyes to the possibility of college?
As a young person, I wasn't even thinking about college so much – I like to say that one of the reasons I even thought about going to college was 4-H, because we used to go to the Colorado State University campus in the summer for the state 4-H conference. Staying in the dorms, wandering around the campus and having the meetings there – meeting kids from all over the state – it made me feel like, “Wow, I could do this!”
I'm the first one in my family ever to go to college, and there just wasn't anybody in the family to talk about what that involved or what it looked like or anything.
That's why nowadays I think our “Juntos” program is so important. I love that we take Latino kids to a UC campus. I think the numbers I've seen are at the beginning of the week, something like 20% of them think they might go to college, and at the end of the week it's jumped to something like 80 or 90%. It makes a big difference, having the chance to see and feel.
How have you seen 4-H evolve and change, and how will it continue to adapt to the times?
I love the fact that we're doing these SPIN clubs – these special projects that are a little shorter term. I think that's a great evolution. Not every family in this day and age can sign up for the whole-year, club program. That's a lot for parents to take on being volunteers and project leaders.
Having the in-school and after-school options and six-week and nine-week options opens it up to a lot more kids. And frankly if we can get them interested in the short-term special projects, then maybe they will join the club program.
I love the fact, too, that 4-H really tries to be inclusive. 4-H has really been always very inclusive; I actually was invited to be a keynote speaker at a conference in Ohio – at The Ohio State University – about four years ago. Several states got together to talk about LGBTQ 4-H kids and youth, what were the challenges they were facing and how we were serving them. I thought it was fantastic that Ohio State and these other universities put on that event; conversations were mostly about making sure those youth felt safe participating in 4-H. It's vital that we all strive to ensure that 4-H is for everybody.
Now we would like to hear from you, 4-Hers! Tell us how 4-H has made an impact in your life, and share a favorite memory or two, by posting in the Comments box at the bottom of this story./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>