Why 4-H Kids Are Smarter, Healthier

Nor' east Thinkin'

Parentally-guided tasks and clean mud build stronger kids

Published on: April 19, 2011

 We, in agriculture, don't like to brag. But there are rock-solid reasons why farm-raised children are healthier, smarter and tend to be more successful as adults.

They are, in fact, the highest value "crop" a farm family can grow. And, it has all to do with how you nourish and grow them.

It's not even a well-kept secret. That's why so many farmer wanna-bes want to be, despite the high cost of becoming one.

Lessons learned

I, for example, owe my good health to dirt, mud and livestock. I was elbow- and knee-deep in all three as a youngster – and still am when the opportunity presents itself.

Scientific research in Europe, Canada and Australia confirms the medicinal properties of all three. Farm exposure to them in early childhood reduces risk of developing asthma and allergies, compared to non-farm kids.

Why? At young ages, our bodies are better able to develop natural defenses or tolerance to bacteria, dirt, dust and dander, similar to a vaccine titer response.

Farm kids catch on pretty quickly how babies "happen" – sometimes daily on the farm. Seeing the whole process gives them a little more restraint when they hit the terrible teens. You clearly understand the "birds and bees" after caring for the cows and bulls.

Being outdoors more than most, farm kids also get more exercise growing up than non-farm kids. My Dad never called it exercise though. He often said, "A little work will never hurt you."

That was his justification for having me on gate duty for hours in four-buckle-deep cattle yard slop. I was just thankful we got the manure hauled out before it topped five buckles. From that experience, I learned patience and endurance better than any book could teach.

My parents "planted" me in 4-H early on. With all my beef calves, I got plentiful exposure to healthful dirt, dust, dander and whatever my personal pitchfork would hold. And record keeping for those 4-H projects taught me there was more to my barnyard pets than simple play.

Between weed pulling, barn duty, manure hauling and school, who had time to learn to smoke, drink or take drugs?! Of course back then, aspirin was the only drug I knew about – aside of combiotics for treating my critters.

4-H: Model for successful living

Unknowingly I followed the successful 4-H youth development model – one recently confirmed by a nationwide Tufts University study. That study involved about 4,000 diverse adolescents with varying levels of involvement in youth programs, such as 4-H, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, and Scouting.

Compared to youth involved in other groups, 4-Hers are:

  • More than twice as likely to contribute to their communities
  • 41% less likely to engage in risky or problem behaviors
  • Twice as less likely to engage in drug use
  • Twice as unlikely to use cigarettes or drink alcohol
  • Less likely to be victims of depression
  • More likely to spend more time exercising or being physically active
  • More likely to have better grades and see themselves going to college

The bottom line: View your children as resources in development rather than problems to be managed. It'll help you both.

I still pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living. I hope you're doing the same – for yourself and your next generation.

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