4-H has been an integral part of many agricultural communities for more than 100 years. In BC, the program began in 1914, during that first year more than 200 youth aged ten to 18 were involved in competitions that were at that time sponsored by the Department of Agriculture. 

The original focus was on the rather exciting production of the potato, but soon expanded to include poultry, and then swine, beef, dairy, and corn. Eventually the ‘Boys and Girls’ Clubs became 4-H Clubs in 1952, reflecting the priorities of the Clubs. 

4-H stands for ‘head, heart, hands and health’. Members recite a secular Pledge of Allegiance at each meeting: “I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

Merritt, which historically had its roots in farming and ranching and continues to boast a strong agricultural sector, has its own 4-H Club: The Grassland Homesteader’s; a nod to the Nicola Valley’s rolling grassland hills which have sustained cattle, sheep and horses for more than a century. 

Although the number of members enrolled in the local 4-H Club have been decreasing, new leader Erica Martindale believes that the club serves an important purpose, and is poised for a resurgence in popularity and members. 

In the meantime, however, 4-H BC has relaxed the requirements and is allowing the club to run with fewer members due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that there will be an active club in the Nicola Valley this year. 

“As an organization they realize less parents will be inclined to register their kids for an organized program, just because there is more uncertainty around how we’re going to operate and the whole nine yards,” explained Martindale. 

“It was really great for us because we have really low enrollment, it means that we don’t actually have to fold the club, we can continue to operate with just limited members.”  

Although the number of members may be smaller than in years past, the opportunities to pursue a new hobby or passion are endless. Being part of the Kamloops-Okanagan division of 4-H Clubs means that there are numerous projects for members to choose from. A 4-H ‘project’ is an area of focus, typically livestock related such as sheep, swine, dairy, goat, beef, horse, rabbit, dog or poultry. However, other projects include photography, crafts, gardening, and leathercraft.

“Within any 4-H Club it’s kind of like the sky’s the limit in terms of what projects members can work on,” said Martindale.

“So long as you have leadership and volunteers that are willing to help out and help the kids along.” 

Martindale, a 4-H alumni herself, was inspired to become a leader so that her own children could experience the same enjoyment she had had in the Grassland Homesteader’s Club. 

“For me it’s pretty exciting, because now my kids are going to be coming of age to participate and it’s neat to come full circle and be able to help out as a leader,” said Martindale. 

“I grew up in the Nicola Valley and when I was a kid, I was a member. I did primarily beef 4-H, but at that point in time our Club was flourishing. I think at its prime we had close to 40 members.”

Martindale notes that there had been an ebb and flow of membership and that the Club has gone through some changes in the past several decades, but she hopes that she can serve as an effective leader and expand the Club’s offerings.

“My hope for this year, for me personally, is that I can get my footing as a leader and learn a little bit more about the program and the things that we can offer,” said Martindale.

“For the 2022 year I’m hoping we can offer a beef, a horse and a sheep program for sure. Those are kind of my areas that I’m more comfortable with. I believe wholeheartedly in what 4-H stands for, and what it encourages in the youth in our community. What I’m hoping to see in the club is not only the kids learning by doing in agriculture, but also community service, giving back to the community however we can. And kids making social connections that they maybe wouldn’t before because it’s going to bring kids together from all over the valley.”  

When questioned about her own experiences and how being a member as a young woman was beneficial to her, Martindale was overflowing with praise for the program. 

“First and foremost, in agriculture it gives kids hands on learning experiences,” said Martindale.

“I think it gives them self-efficacy and self-reliance in terms of it gives them the skills and the knowledge and the practice to be able to do things for themselves, and it kind of goes along with the 4-H motto (learn to do by doing). Not only with their animals, but when they’re in meetings they’re learning how to conduct themselves in a professional manner, from our public speaking program they’re learning communication skills, they’re networking with other youth across our region, I think that’s really important. And learning to also work like a team, relying on each other and leaning on older members to provide leadership for younger members.”  

To learn more about the Grassland Homesteader’s Club, or to become a member or volunteer as a leader, contact Erica at [email protected].