Column: 4-H – raising kids the right way

ESCANABA — I’ve been an active member of conservation for over three decades, serving in a capacity from general membership to committee and officer status. The largest and most effective statewide organization affiliation I’ve held has been and continues to be the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC).

MUCC is a meagerly paid staffed non-profit conservation organization with over 40,000 individual men and women represented. They have impressed me through the years for their presence in the Michigan Legislature and work with the Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). The structure of MUCC is of high integrity and requires all participants to hold a level of dignity in working with the public as stewards of our natural resources.

Each year, MUCC holds satellite regional meetings where policy resolutions are introduced, voted on and if passed, sent onto the statewide convention for passage. Each resolution is scrutinized by the representative delegates who have the opportunity to stand before all present and debate differences. It is a process that holds tight by use of Robert’s Rules of Order to get the job done. There is a published code of conduct to control emotion and disagreement to assure things don’t get personal and derogatory.

At last June’s convention, one organization was attempting to introduce policy to make antler point restrictions mandatory statewide while also calling for increased harvest efforts on antlerless deer on the guise of balancing Michigan’s deer population. I have a problem with that in how it pushed for hunters to be regulated on choice of what they take more from a trophy perspective rather than a total management perspective.

Throughout the debate phase the sponsor group, Quality Deer Management Association of Michigan, reiterated the intent was necessary to control hunter behavior. I felt the need to stand up on disagreement and summed my position by stating, “It boils down to the ethics of each hunter and in all these years, if I’ve learned anything, you can’t regulate ethics. You have to teach ethics!” It is unfortunate that what I learned as a youngster has lost its emphasis with some modern day hunters.

It’s not just an issue with hunting. Teaching proper ethics and behavior is a big issue in society today as we see an “anything goes” mindset present. Sometimes we wonder what the future will bring because nobody cares and problems are growing to levels never seen before.

So what’s the resolve?

This week I’ve been able to follow more of the agricultural side of the U.P. State Fair. What is being done with the youth through involvement with 4-H is phenomenal and gives real hope to seeing a positive future in society.

4-H is delivered by Cooperative Extension-a community of more than 100 public universities across the nation that provides experiences where young people learn by doing. Kids complete hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship, in a positive environment where they receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles. Kids experience 4-H in every county and parish in the country through in-school and after-school programs, school and community clubs and 4-H camps.

Each youngster participating in the livestock exhibits and judging at the U.P. State Fair follow stringent business requirements set by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The process of raising an animal(s) for show and market find the owner being required to compile daily information records and hands-on care while also trying to be a kid. They also have a responsibility to demonstrate a true positive attitude among their peers.

Another requirement for youth exhibitors at the fair is to sign onto a contractual code of conduct, the same as we adults use with MUCC. In this case these kids express their want that their animal project will be an example of how to accept what life has to offer, good and bad, and how to live with the outcome. To do so they also pledge to respect their fellow exhibitors, and their project, and realize they have no right to disrupt or disturb their animal, barns or stalls. They further realize it is their responsibility as an exhibitor at the Upper Peninsula State Fair, as a must, to report unusual activity in or around any barn.

On the adult side, parents are required to keep the intent and spirit of the Upper Peninsula State Fair, and remember that their child/club member is the one exhibiting, not them. They will place the emotional and physical well-being of their child/club ahead of their personal desire to win.

This personal contract is kept serious in that any violation is grounds for immediate disqualification and/or immediate ejection by Fair staff, Management Agent, or U.P. State Fair Authority.

It is set up not to regulate exhibitors. I believe this is a process of teaching that each participating youngster will have ingrained into them as part of their core to be carried forward as an adult. It is part and parcel to correcting the problems seen today in schools with bullying and childhood depression.

I was lucky to have parents that taught me how to work, set goals and weigh the outcome to not only relish in accomplishment, but to also regroup and start over when things don’t go as intended. They had help in letting me be involved with Boy Scouts and later the latitude of extra curriculars in school including sports. Our children were also taught to do the same, including involvement in the 4-H youth shooting sports.

Perhaps re-introducing 4-H and conservation into the schools could be a good spark in getting resolve to the lost direction present with today’s youth.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.

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