Farmers Forum staff
GUELPH — The non-profit 4-H clubs have been a staple in the life of young rural Canadians for over a century. The youth organization boasts some 23,000 members across the country and is now recovering from huge memberships losses under COVID restrictions
The pandemic saw the end of 4-H Achievement Days as well as in-person events as Ontario 4-H members and volunteers dropped by more than 50 %, from 7,866 (5,906 youth members and 1,960 volunteers) to 3,876.
4-H Ontario manager of communications Laura Goulding says things are looking up for this year as youth memberships alone in June were at 3,497. “4-H saw a decline in participation for 2020 and 2021, but the club has topped its goal of a 23% increase in memberships for 2022,” she said.
Goulding says about two-thirds of members are returning and 33% are new faces.
4-H also recently received a $150,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to support participant recruitment.
The organization is using social media to reach out to youth and has released its summer magazine that reaches 22,000 people across the province. They are also helping 4-H groups connect with their local farmers’ markets and worked with AgScape and Food Care Ontario to host a virtual field trips to farms, Goulding said.
4-H can have a long term impact on your life according to Linda McCuaig, who is an administrator with the Carleton club in Eastern Ontario. “I was a member for eight years and a volunteer for another 52.”
Goulding says 2022 will see a return to the normal events with in-person, virtual and hybrid events. March 2022 saw 4-H’s first in person camp since the pandemic. The Future Leaders in Action Camp was followed by their Volunteer Camp, Dairy Sen$e camp and Discovery Days.
That’s what McCuaig has missed the most. “We’re going to be able to do the Achievement Days at the fairs this year,” she said.