Sunday, July 17, 2011

4-H: Locally Sourced Food, Lifelong Learning

Submitted for publication in the Ellsworth (Kansas) Independent Reporter




A recent post on the CNN food blog site, Eatocracy, posed this question: “Does 4-H desensitize kids to killing?”  A timely question considering county fair season is in full swing across America; yet a question that could have only come from someone who drove by a county fair.  Once.  A long time ago.  



The Ellsworth County 4-H Fair is in full swing this week.  Pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, rabbits, homemade baked goods and hand-crafted arts project have descended upon the fair grounds.  It’s a great, low-cost outing for you and your family.  And it’s a perfect opportunity for you to answer that question for yourself.    



It’s becoming quite vogue in American culture to know where your food comes from.  And while I firmly believe that it’s imperative to understand our food systems and to share that information with your children; it’s equally imperative that you base your information and food purchasing decisions on facts.  From the source.  Like a 4-H’er who has spent the past six months or more caring for his or her cows, pigs and chickens.



So as you and your family stroll down the aisles of animal exhibits at the fair, ask a 4-H’er about the care they gave to their animals.  What type of feed did they use?  How often did they water their animals?  What did they do to keep them cool in this summer’s extreme heat?  Will their animal be going to market or going home after the fair?  How do they feel about that?



In my lifetime of 4-H experiences, I know that 4-H animals are among the best cared for livestock.  They truly live a luxury life.  If it’s possible for an animal to live in luxury.  And I know that 4-H sensitizes and educates children about our animal production systems in America.  I have been heartbroken over steers and pigs headed to market.  But I was privileged to grow up in the understanding that animals destined for human consumption deserve a life of good care and respect.  



I hope your trip to the county fair this week will allow you a glimpse into the world of livestock production.  And that it will allow you to see how 4-H is preparing the next generation of livestock producers to care for and respect their animals in a way that you can feel good about.