Painting the 4-H Picture

June [Thomson] Switzer became involved with the 4-H program at the age of 12. Growing up on a farm outside of Rockwood, she was actively involved in agriculture and life skills clubs, while completing over 45 projects. Among her many long lasting memories, she still remembers fondly her first meeting learning to make tea biscuits in a small farm kitchen, sewing and wearing her first 4-H dress, showing her calf and winning red, winning the Silver Dollar Competition (precursor to the Gencor Challenge and today’s version), the many bus trips, meeting other clubs and much more. Her (late) husband Craig and children, Kris and Brooke are all graduates of the 4-H program as well.

After graduation from the 4-H program, Switzer remained involved as an active volunteer. She continues today as a volunteer with Mimosa Life Skills and Poultry Clubs including the Mimosa 4-H Art Club. As a volunteer she has many memories as well such as watching a shy 10-year-old blossom over five years into a confident leader.

“Then the ultimate volunteer delight; to have a member graduate from 4-H and continue as an independent leader,” she adds.

Switzer says 4-H has allowed her to grow right along with the members. 

“I gained so much confidence and so many life skills as a member it seems only right to give back to the next generations,” she says. “When I see the members’ enthusiasm for things that I too enjoy, it is a real energizing uplift. I go home with a smile from every meeting.”

One of those things that Switzer has always enjoyed has been art and painting and creating artwork which reflects farm life. This year, she put those talents towards creating the artwork used for the 4-H Ontario Outstanding New Leader Award.

“I have loved art since elementary school when we had it last period on Friday afternoons,” she says. 

Though she enjoyed it, it was often hard to find the time between raising children, leading 4-H, attending church and agricultural society work, as well as farming and working as a full-time teacher. Switzer taught for 34 years at Erin District High School and Erin Public School. But upon retirement, she decided it was time to “play” again.

“I am delighted and honoured to think that new volunteers to 4-H will be looking at my work and just as in the painting, thinking about which projects they’ll plan for their new year.”

The painting for the 4-H Ontario Outstanding New Leader Award is titled Waiting For Spring and is described below.

The summer and fall months are filled with 4-H achievements, local fairs, as well as award ceremonies. During the winter months, volunteers are able to reflect on the past year and preparing for the highly anticipated year ahead. The “Volunteer Lives Here” signifies that a 4-H volunteer’s duty is never complete. Our volunteers work tirelessly year round and make the 4-H program happen.

L-R: June Switzer, Katelyn Donaldson (one of the 2016 award winners), Marie McNabb, Executive Member, Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd.

The 4-H Ontario Outstanding New Leader Award is Sponsored by Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd.

A co-operative owned by over 1,300 farmers, representing approximately 35% of Ontario’s dairy farmers, Gay Lea has been providing a wide range of dairy products to consumers for over 55 years. 

About the 4-H Ontario Outstanding New Leader Award

These awards recognize volunteers who are new to 4-H, but doing great things for youth members in their clubs. This award celebrates those volunteers who have been leaders with 4-H Ontario for less than three years.

Nominations are currently being accepted for the 2017 awards until May 15, 2017. Find out more about this award and make your nominations here.

The Ambassador Beat: Robert McKinlay

The 4-H Ontario Ambassador program provides youth with advanced level training in leadership, citizenship, communications and public relations. Ambassadors put their energy and 4-H experiences to work recruiting new members and sharing the 4-H story. Throughout 2017, each of 4-H Ontario’s six Ambassadors will submit blog entries about their experiences in the program. The 4-H Ontario Ambassador program is proudly sponsored by GROWMARK, Inc. and UPI Energy. For more info on the Ambassador program click here. To book an Ambassador for your event please complete the request form.

Submitted by Robert McKinlay, 4-H Ontario Youth Ambassador from Grey 4-H Association

My name is Robert McKinlay and I am a 2017 4-H Ontario Ambassador. 4-H has been a huge part of my upbringing with both my parents having completed the program and strongly encouraging me to take advantage of all the opportunities it has to offer. My family calves out 200 cows on our family farm near Ravenna, Ontario, raising purebred Red Angus cattle along purebred Simmental cattle and crossbreds.

4-H Calf Club has been one of the most rewarding clubs I have taken part in because I am able to both share my knowledge of the beef industry but also learn other people’s stories and gain knowledge from them. I have completed 33 4-H projects to date and can’t wait to continue my 4-H journey by taking part in both the Ambassador Program but also in being a Youth Leader with my local 4-H Calf Club.

Other clubs that I have been involved in are 4-H Sheep Club, 4-H Fall Fair Club, 4-H Ploughing Club and 4-H Mechanics Club. I have been able to take part in both livestock and life skills clubs allowing me to take advantage of many 4-H opportunities. My favourite event run by 4-H in my area is the Grey Bruce Judging Competition in Walkerton, Ontario. This event allows for members to practice their judging skills as well as having the opportunity to network with other members of the 4-H community.

Outside of 4-H I am very involved with the farm working alongside my dad and our other employees. I have been accepted to the University of Guelph for Honors in Agriculture and hope to return from school with more skills and ideas to add to the farm to help it evolve with the markets.

As an Ambassador I have been able to take part in two events; College Royal at the University of Guelph and the Durham Farm Connections Open House. At both events I have had a great time meeting with the members of the community and engaging them in conversations about what 4-H has been in the past and what 4-H will be in the future. While at these events I have also had a great opportunity to get to know some of my fellow Ambassadors. They are all truly outstanding individuals both in their 4-H careers and in their lives outside of the program. I am honoured that I get to be a part of such an amazing team of individuals and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for us.

Region 3′s Judge It! Returns

Region 3’s Judge It! Day holds a long history in 4-H circling back to when it was run by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and was called the Peterborough Junior Day and held at the Peterborough Fairgrounds. This event has always attracted large crowds from members all across the region, sometimes on the low end with 60 members, but many times attracting over 120 members. This typically depended on where the event was hosted, as after some sponsorship ended, the nine Region 3 counties took turns hosting the event. Through an inter-region naming competition, Jane Johnson of the Durham West 4-H Association came up with the new name, Judge It!. Despite its long history, participation had been declining over the last few years and the event had to be cancelled in 2015.

In a judging competition participants are asked to judge six classes of four samples. These classes consist of the 4-H projects that were of interest in the prior year, such as livestock classes, crop classes and many others. Participants have to use critical thinking in order to decipher which sample in the class is the best, and which one is the worst. Participants have scorecards available to them to help them assess the most important features of a class in order for them to choose their top choice. They are able to take away public speaking, social, leadership and sportsmanship skills as they work as a team and compete amongst others.

Maria Davis of Durham West still holds fond memories of her time as a 4-H member at Peterborough Junior Day and is a recent member of the Durham West board.

“I really enjoyed the program and the rivalry with different members from different counties,” she says. “It was always a great time and I wanted to help make it that way again for young members.”

During a regional meeting a plan was put in place to revive Judge It! and rather than rotate it through different counties, they would keep it at the same place and date for at least five years and evaluate how attendance was effected. This proved to be extremely successful in the first year back, with over 100 members participating. The competition saw Diane Jeffs claim Top Overall Judge honours.

“I believe the event was so successful this time because as a board of volunteers we really pushed for participation from our own counties,” says Davis. “A couple of counties even had a bus hired to bring them. I think it was a great effort by parents and volunteers to get the event back on its feet that really was the success.”

Judge It! was held at the Orono Fairgrounds in Durham East County which is central to all of the nine counties in the region. The event was made shorter through the use of improved record placing technology and the fairgrounds is also a large open space with a public pool, ideal for hot days and a cool down. Held on the last Tuesday in July, this will continue moving forward to allow for better planning and promotion.

Davis says she enjoys being a part of 4-H because it was such a big part of her youth, her entire family was involved and it was something she looked forward to doing in the summer.

“I met many great friends that I still have in other counties through the various camps and competitions and I enjoy being a part of something that has such a strong history,” she says. “I enjoy being a part of Judge It! because I didn’t want to see it disappear. I have always loved to judge and think that it is such an important and fun part of the 4-H program.”

What’s The Real Dirt On Farming?

By Ryan Métivier

In 2016 the locally approved Real Dirt On Farming project continued to be popular in Region 2. Leaders Jean Sullivan and Leah Richardson-Dean of Carleton 4-H Association began the project in 2015 and in only its second year, it already doubled in size.

“I took the Real Dirt On Farming training (through Farm & Food Care Ontario) and felt the issues discussed would fit with the 4-H format,” says Sullivan. “The topics apply to youth as they are bombarded by information and misinformation on social media.”

The Real Dirt On Farming project is based around the teaching of topics such as how your food is grown, the difference between growing crops conventionally and organically, pesticide use, animal housing and animal welfare, environmental sustainability, technology used in farming and more. Last year Jean and Leah’s club touched on many of these topics by visiting a strawberry and vegetable farm to discuss farm labour, organic versus conventional foods and direct sales. They also participated in the Port of Prescott Grain Handling Tour, having conversations about grain buyers and GMO/non-GMO corn. Additional tours included learning about an anaerobic digester and manure management/stewardship during a dairy farm tour and learning about how soybeans reproduce at Central Experimental Farm. Three members attended the Centre For Food Integrity to listen to research about consumer trust.

In 2016, “soil your underwear” was introduced to provide a project to carry through the club and it was a huge success. In order to learn about soil health and the importance of soil to agriculture, members were given a pair of white cotton underwear to bury on their farm or property, with plans to dig up at a later date to examine what they could learn about soils. The club was also able to create a display at the Carp Farmers Market by stringing them up on a clothesline across the front of a small tent.

“We tried to make the conversation something that wasn’t too technical—simply that soil contains lots of microorganisms, fungi, and bacteria,” says Sullivan. “It’s these creatures that eat through the cotton in the underwear, showing us they are there and working to build soils.”

As someone who grew up in 4-H herself, Sullivan says it provided her with a positive experience and has shaped where she is and what she does today. Being involved as a volunteer has allowed her to share her knowledge on topics she cares about and to receive positive feedback from members, parents, other leaders and the community.

Kathryn Stanton, a 4-H member in Carleton, has been a part of the club for the past two years and says what she has enjoyed the most has been learning about different farm operations and furthering her understanding of the Canadian agriculture industry.

“A big part of what we learnt was how to best interact with consumers and becoming true ‘Agvocates,’ she says. “I also developed skills such as public speaking through our achievement days, one of which we spoke to the Ottawa City Council of Rural Affairs.”

As part of the Real Dirt On Farming project, each of the past two years a representative of Farm & Food Care has visited the club to provide insights into perceptions of media, consumers, protesters and others.

“Having Farm & Food Care attend our meeting was extremely helpful teaching us the ropes on how to best help tell the story and facts about the industry,” says Stanton. “One of the key things they touched on was how to have a 30 second elevator conversation, where you discuss who you are, how you are connected to agriculture, all the while keeping the topic positive and educational.”

“I think they are also gaining skills and attitudes to help them understand others,” says Sullivan. “Through participation in this club members are gaining confidence in presenting their opinions and public speaking, parliamentary procedure and decision-making skills.”