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4-H, FFA and Summer "Break"?

Young, Beginning, Small & Veteran Farmers

So…while the end is approaching, it is still summer vacation for kids, which means lazy days, relaxing, spending time with friends, etc. right?  Well…probably not if you are a 4-H or FFA member.  For many of these kids, the summer is not “relaxing time”, it is filled with many different activities.  For the kids who have livestock projects, the summer is the start of the “busy” show season - Regional and Preview shows, Junior Nationals, county and state fairs, and even national shows will consume a lot of time for many of these families.  And even for those who don’t have livestock projects, the summer is full of state conventions, state congresses, leadership trainings, camp, practice for competition…the list goes on and on.  All of this means that even during the summer, these kids have lots of early mornings, late nights, months of work at home before going to a show or competition; sound fun?

You wouldn’t be alone if you said no. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is; early mornings and late nights before school, spending summer vacation practicing, turning down invitations to parties, and for many no summer vacation (except for the shows, congresses, conventions and competitions). Add to that, at each show or competition someone is going to win and someone is going to lose…and it’s almost a guarantee that you won’t always win. So why do it? 

Because, for most of these kids and families, it’s not about winning. Do they like to win? Of course! Do they celebrate when they win? You bet. But for them, the winning is the least of it. For those kids it’s about character. It’s about hard work and perseverance; winning with grace and losing the same way. It’s about shaking the judge’s hand and saying thank you, even if you didn’t agree with him. It’s about listening to the advice, suggestions and criticisms and using them to improve. It’s about caring for something more than yourself; an animal that depends on you for food, water and care or a team that is depending on you to do your best. It’s about taking the hard knocks and rolling with the punches, about learning that life isn’t always fair and that you can get through those tough times. Things happen, and how you handle them will help shape who you become. It’s about learning a new skill or honing one, about learning how to care for an animal, learning how to create a balance sheet, keep records, pay bills, and understand expenses and income. It’s about making friends you would have never made otherwise, meeting people from different towns, different states, maybe even different countries, and realizing that common interests can reach across great physical distances.

For parents, it’s about building leaders, kids who are kind and caring, who listen and work hard to improve, who know what it feels like to win and to lose. It’s about teaching your kids that the person you are is more important than the ribbon you hold; that you’re never too busy to help someone, and how to work as a team.  It’s about raising people we’d be proud to know and call friends; people who are loyal, strong, kind and hard working.

That blue ribbon, award or purple banner? It’s icing on the cake. The lessons, experiences, connections and friends that are learned and developed? That’s the real reason these kids give up their summers and their free time, and why their parents support them.

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