Select Page

Teaching Agriculture from the Ground Up


Youth learn about pollination and nutrition at the pumpkin station. The center grows several varieties to demonstrate the diversity of the plant family.

What has 1600 eyes, 1600 legs, can be male or female, and has enough energy collectively to send a rocket to the moon? The 3rd – 5th graders that participate in the multi-county 4-H Ag Adventures Program! This educational adventure is held annually during September at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, Florida.  This event helps youth understand where their food comes from, the importance of agricultural industry in Florida, and career opportunities in agriculture related fields. Students are introduced to field crops as they rotate through stations that cover peanuts, corn, cotton, pollination, pumpkins, and soils.  At each station county extension agents and IFAS research faculty provide “hands on” presentations that are prepared to enhance the students learning experience.

In addition, this event is a platform for youth to learn the current trends, issues and challenges farmers face as they continue to try to feed our increasing population. Some of these trends and challenges include food safety and bio-security, farm labor, bio-security, land use, pest and disease control, and the use of technology in agriculture. This issues encompass all four of the “H’s” in 4-H: Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.

While some youth still associate “agriculture” with increasing negativity (thinking of the hot sun, extreme fatigue, very hard work, minimal income), a recent poll shared on the website states the top three reasons youth should consider a career in agriculture are the following:

1. Agriculture matters to the future of development,

2. Agriculture can be a gold mine for young entrepreneurs,

3. Agriculture research needs young brain power.

Regional 4-H Agent Heather Kent shares:

“Although this event is geared towards teaching youth about agriculture, the parents and teachers that attend learn just as much and often have more questions that the youth!  The adults are just as curious and amazed at how much agriculture affects their daily lives- especially if they do not have an agricultural background. Most of them have no idea how many careers are related to agriculture or how much today’s farmers utilize technology.  It’s a real eye-opener for them.”

Ag Agent Jed Dillard teaching youth about cotton. Do you know how many pairs of jeans you can make out of a bale of cotton?

Ag Agent Jed Dillard teaching youth about cotton. Do you know how many pairs of jeans you can make out of a bale of cotton?

This program is sponsored by UF/IFAS, it is also supported by both Florida Farm Bureau and Farm Credit of Northwest Florida.  These organizations not only provide funding to help pay for the transportation for students to attend, but they also provide corporate volunteers to help make the event happen.  If your child’s classroom missed out on this opportunity, it’s not too late.  The North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy is hosting “Art in the Garden” festival Saturday, October 1st from 9AM -2PM.  The event is FREE and open to the public.  This event is a great way to learn about agriculture in a fun and family friendly way.  There will be trolley tours, demonstrations, games, arts and crafts and food.

In the near future the students that pass through our stations will grow into the adults that will be making important decisions about our food systems. It is in that spirit that we must continue to teach them ….from the ground up. Visit  for more information on careers in agriculture.

If you have a passion or agriculture, consider serving as a 4-H volunteer or advocate to help inspire the next generation.  Contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office or visit




Teaching Youth to be Smart Consumers

th“Experts estimate that 2 to 14 year-olds have sway over $500 billion a year in household purchasing (Calvert 2008).”  In other words, adults make decisions each day concerning purchases for their household, but youth have tremendous influence over what parents are buying. The 4-H Consumer Choices judging contest is ideal for helping youth understand the underlying value behind goods and services available for purchase in today’s free market society- a life skill that will serve them well throughout their life!

Judy Corbus teaches financial literacy classes for both youth and adults in Washington and Holmes Counties.

Judy Corbus teaches financial literacy classes for both youth and adults in Washington and Holmes Counties.

Last week’s post shared some research about how 4-H Judging programs help youth attain workforce skills for the 21st century.  The 4-H Consumer Choices program is a judging program that helps youth learn how to study and evaluate the latest consumer products in a friendly, competitive setting.  Each year, four topics, or products are selected by subject-matter specialists at UF.  They prepare guides for both coaches (volunteers) and youth with background information and sample scenarios to judge.

Judy Corbus is the Family, Youth and Communities Sciences Agent in both Washington and Holmes Counties.  She is part of a state-wide team that provides leadership for the Consumer Choices program for Florida 4-H.  When asked what inspires her most to work with this program, she shared:

“Teaching 4-H members how to evaluate a product and make an informed decision based on their needs and budget is an essential life skill they will use long after they graduate from 4-H.  A 4-H alum, now in his early 30s, who had participated in the Consumer Choices program in my county recently attended my homebuyer education class.  He shared that Consumer Choices was the one 4-H program in which he still uses the skills he had learned from it in his daily life as an adult.  That testimony really encourages me and validates the role of the program in developing financial literacy skills in young people.”

What products do youth evaluate?  Each year, different products are chosen. This year’s products are:

How do youth prepare for the contest?  Study guides are provided each year that contain all relevant information about each project. Contact your local 4-H agent to receive a copy of the study guides, or click on the links above to download a guide.  Contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office to inquire about the next scheduled training for youth or coaches.

When is the competition?  These events are usually conducted at county and area fairs across the state. Regional competitions are held at the Pensacola Interstate Fair, North Florida Fair, South Florida Fair, and the Florida State Fair. You will need to register through your local UF IFAS County Extension Office.

How do I get involved?  Youth may want to explore this topic through a day camp, workshop or as part of an actual team, or even as an individual.  Enroll in 4-H online, then Contact your local 4-H agent for the date(s) of the Consumer Choices Contest, workshop or day camp in your area.  If you are an adult with a passion for money management, budgeting, or smart shopping, consider serving as a coach for a team or a speaker for a day camp or workshop.  To get started, contact your local office or visit

Helpful Links:



Judging Teams Grow Workforce Skills

Youth competing at the North Florida Fair Horticulture Judging Contest.  Photo credit: UF IFAS Leon County 4-H

Youth competing at the North Florida Fair Horticulture Judging Contest. Photo credit: UF IFAS Leon County 4-H

For parents who want their child to be prepared for the 21st century workforce, participating in a 4-H judging team may be the answer.  Several universities have recently published studies on the impacts 4-H judging teams have had on workforce readiness.  The University of Georgia surveyed over 1,300 4-H alumni who reported that judging programs helped them develop confidence and communication and decision making skills (McCann & McCann 1992).  A 2005 University of Idaho study found that 97% of alumni indicated that their 4-H judging experience positively influenced their personal success as adults (Nash & Sant, 2005).  Similar results were found in studies conducted by Rutgers and the University of Missouri.  The life skills attained through judging programs are not only sought-after by employers but are applicable to most professions.  In addition, these skills are not always taught in school or on the sports field but are intentionally integrated into the 4-H positive youth development program.

Florida 4-H Alumna (and national poultry and meats judging champion) Stacey Warden shared:  “I would not be the person I am today if I had not joined 4-H.  4-H [judging teams] helped me learn how to speak in front of others, build confidence and gave me so many opportunities I would not have had otherwise.”  One Missouri 4-H alumna shared: “I have had the chance to meet some of the greatest people in the world, visit many different states, and gain ever so vital experiences in public speaking.  Giving oral reasons has helped me sharpen my speaking abilities.  In today’s society, communication is the key to success (Sheppard 2005).”

Florida 4-H offers many opportunities for youth to be involved in a judging team.  While livestock judging may be the most recognized, we also offer judging programs in forestry,

Leon County Master Gardeners help youth practice for the Horticulture Judging Contest.

Leon County Master Gardeners help youth practice for the Horticulture Judging Contest.

poultry, land/soils, meats, horticulture, consumer choices, horse, dairy goat and marine ecology.  Mastering the subject matter content is only one aspect of the program.  Youth work as a team to correctly identify animals, plants, or parts.  They also have to learn to make close observations and think on their feet to evaluate the quality of an animal, plant, or product.  They master communication and presentation skills by defending their choices in front of a judge (this is called giving oral reasons).  The real goal of these programs is to help youth develop confidence, communication and decision making skills that will help them be successful adults in work and personal life later on.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will feature different judging opportunities that will be available this fall at the North Florida Fair.  This week, our feature is on the 4-H Horticulture Judging Program.  Do you know the difference between opposite, alternate, whorled and palmate leaves?  Can you tell the difference between poison ivy and Virginia creeper?  Do you know what to look for when purchasing shrubs for your landscape?  Youth involved in the 4-H Horticulture judging team do!  Horticulture judging is a great way to learn how to correctly identify plants and learn about Florida’s horticulture industry, which is ranked second in the nation and is a billion dollar industry for our state!

Getting started is easy!  First, download a copy of the rules and glossary.  Begin to familiarize yourself with plant terms so that you can become proficient at plant identification and use of keys.   Next, take a look at the online tutorial.  There are four modules:

Last but not least, quiz yourself- visit a local grocery store or nursery and see how many fruits, vegetables and plants you can correctly identify!  The next opportunity to participate in a horticulture judging contest will be Saturday, November 12th at the North Florida Fair.  The state contest is usually held in Gainesville in July in conjunction with 4-H University,

If you have a passion for plants or the horticulture industry, consider coaching or participating in a 4-H horticultural judging team.  Together, let’s grow 4-H to help the next generation develop 21st century workforce skills for Florida!  Contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office to sign up as a volunteer or member, or visit Next week, we will feature our consumer choices judging contest.


McCann, J. S., & McCann, M. A. (1992). Judging team members’ reflection on the value of livestock, horse, meats, and wool judging programs. The Professional Animal Scientist8, 7–13.

Nash, S. A., & Sant, S. L. (2005). Life-skill development found in 4-H animal judging. Journal of Extension [Online], 43(2) Article 2RIB5. Available at:

Sheppard, L. (2005). Where would I be without 4-H? Missouri Ruralist, October 2005.