WOLVERTON (AP) -- When "amber waves of grain" dominated the American way of life, youth clubs had an obvious and singular focus: Agriculture.
When T.A. Erickson, of Douglas County, started a corn growing club in 1904 to keep children occupied and to teach updated farming methods, he helped plant the seeds for the 4-H Youth Extension Service that is now celebrating its centennial.
Today's 4-H involves about 6.4 million kids nationwide, 280,000 (or one out of four) kids in Minnesota and is radically different from the corn clubs that were initiated 100 years ago.
"There has been a shift to an urban, more social-type program, particularly at the U of M," said Wolverton resident Amber Nord, a 4-Her and mother of three.
The Nord family has had four generations of 4-H membership, dating back to the beginning of the organization. Her children, Luke, 9, Alisha, 12, and Audra, 14, have been raised on their farm selling free range chickens, eggs and vegetables and were brought up with the family 4-H traditions.
And when Luke, Alisha and Audra bring the cattle, hogs and sheep they raised themselves to compete at regional 4-H competitions, they will be among the youngest participants.
Even if they sell their animals, Nord said that buyers frequently view the price tag as a donation and won't take the livestock to be butchered.
"It used to be different," Nord said. "The livestock sale used to be just that. When I was in 4-H we made money. That's how I put myself through college."
Nord, who is a 4-H leader and devoted participant, wants the club to remain focused on the skills required for farm living.
"I'm pretty die-hard for agriculture," Nord said.
Brenda Shafer, 4-H extension educator in Clay County, said that the invention of tractors, implements and chemicals after World War II spurred a mass migration from the farms to urban areas.
"People moved to cities and they brought 4-H with them," she said. "We can all become very nostalgic about the past, but it sometimes doesn't enable us to see the future as we should."
4-H (Head, Heart, Hands and Health) is now comprised mainly of youths who do not live on farms and who only participate in a couple activities.
Today, the clubs offers include photography, global connections, electricity, computer and small engines. Boys can now participate in sewing and cooking clubs, while girls can raise livestock, learn about grain technologies and tractors.
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