The need for knowledgeable food producers and leaders in the future is certain.
But the availability of government funding for education isn’t.
Weld County 4-H leaders aren’t leaving anything to chance.
Looking to expand what’s already one of the largest and most successful programs in the state, Weld 4-H officials have set a goal to establish a $2 million endowment fund by the end of 2014 to hire additional 4-H staff.
Keith Maxey, director of the Colorado State University Extension office in Weld County that oversees local 4-H operations, said organization leaders want to continue working with the traditional rural youth, but also broaden their programs to appeal to the growing urban population in the area.
Among the specific goals is to increase Weld’s 4-H youth enrollment by 10 percent each of the next five years, and to develop a Farm to Table education program geared toward non-farm kids.
Weld 4-H leaders also hope to develop an agricultural leadership program in collaboration with local industry partners.
At the same time, though, ongoing government budget cuts will likely affect the availability of funds needed to hire additional CSU Extension personnel, so local officials feel it’s a safer bet to raise the dollars on their own.
The $2 million would be used to hire an additional 4-H employee, hopefully some time in 2014, Maxey said, and keep that person on staff at the CSU Extension office in Weld County “for years into the future.”
The endowment strategy is rarely used in CSU Extension.
Currently, there is only one endowed extension position in the state.
The fundraising endeavor is worth it, Weld 4-H leaders say.
At a time when the average age of the U.S. farmer is about 60 years old, Maxey said the need to educate many of today’s disconnected-from-the-farm youth about food production makes 4-H expansion a top priority.
Bill Jackson, president of the Weld County 4-H Foundation board of directors, said Monday that after only about 10 days of fundraising efforts, about $140,000 has been pledged toward the endowment.
Loaded with huge supporters of its 4-H programs, Maxey said he has little doubt Weld County — the eighth-most agriculturally productive county in the United States — is ready to step up and support the growth of the youth program.
“We already have such a great foundation and great support in place here,” Maxey said of Weld’s program, which, each year, has about 900 youth involved in 4-H learning projects through the 27 community clubs in the county, led by about 275 adult volunteers. About 4,000 other youth participate in Weld 4-H’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math activities through school-enrichment and after-school programs. “But we see the need to expand.
“Despite the general population growth we’ve had in Weld County, our 4-H numbers have only stayed steady,” Maxey said, referring to the fact that Weld’s youth population, ages 5-17, increased by 38 percent from 2000-10, but 4-H participation numbers stayed the same during that time. “We’re missing a lot of the new youth, who are mostly coming from urban areas.
“4-H is such a great thing for kids, and we want our program to evolve in a way that we can reach out to all of them.”
The Weld 4-H program has more than 50 categories for learning projects available to youth, including food and nutrition, crops, wildlife, leadership, citizenship, wind power, electronics, model rocketry, clothing construction and apparel and others.
“We certainly put a lot of focus on agriculture, but that’s not the only thing we’re about,” Maxey said. “There are so many different opportunities available youth from all backgrounds.
“Hopefully this is just the beginning of expanding that.”