Honing skills across a spectrum of interests in 4-H

4-H doesn’t dictate your path. Your 4-H member finds their own passions through hands-on learning and honing new skills. Long gone are the days of 4-H focusing solely on farming or farm homemaking.

Elizabeth Pinke describes her Marshmallow Corn Flake cookies and Peach Kuchen bars she baked for static 4-H baking projects on June 22, 2021 at the Grand Forks (N.D.) County Fair. Pinke's first 4-H baking project was at age six when she learned to bake coconut cookies as a 4-H Cloverbud, and she has been baking since, often learning year-round from her grandmothers. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)

There’s a pile of ribbons in a box in our house from the June county fair. Our girls sent a few static projects on to the state fair but most they brought home.

Some 4-Hers and clubs value static projects over livestock projects or vice versa. But I think a variety of experiences in life brings us all the greatest value, which is a part of why I love 4-H and county fairs so much.

4-H doesn’t dictate your path. Your 4-H member finds their own passions through hands-on learning and honing new skills. Long gone are the days of 4-H focusing solely on farming or farm homemaking.

To read more of Katie Pinke's The Pinke Post columns, click here.


A creative arts 4-H project for Elizabeth Pinke this year included a family scrapbook from 2020. She described and showcased her scrapbook exhibit to her county fair judge on June 22, 2021. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)

I asked our 13-year-old her feedback on static projects versus her first livestock project this year, the differences in them and value she found. She’s been doing static projects in 4-H since she was in Cloverbuds, a participation-only program for 5- to 7-year-olds. Elizabeth remembers her nervousness for her first judge interviews as a 6-year old who made coconut cookies, a painted pallet flag and her first flower arrangement. She said those early years of static projects and judge interviews prepared her for numerous experiences as she has gotten older, including joining the school speech team this past year as a seventh grader.

“Static projects give me more variety of experiences and skills. Livestock projects are far more of a time commitment. Both are processes to learn. Talking to judges in statics prepared me for livestock projects,” Elizabeth said.

That's just one person's opinion, which she allowed me to share, but I think there is value to listening to that feedback.

Salvaged from a farmhouse that was being torn down, Anika Pinke sanded a children's rocking chair and repainted it for a 4-H project. She described it to her Environment judge at the county fair in Grand Forks, N.D., on June 22, 2021. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)

Agriculture cannot be elitist. 4-H cannot be only for rural or farm kids. We cannot assume certain kids are only interested in specific project areas or skills development. All kinds of kids need exposure to a variety of 4-H experiences.

Our girls have a father and grandfather who put them right into the workshop of our family-owned lumberyard to teach them woodworking at a young age. For many years we’ve engaged 4-H clubs in woodworking projects annually. We also assist FFA members in ag sales by selling products from our small business.

What we’re doing isn’t about the ribbon, the county fair or the state fair. It isn’t quantified by recognition or awards. The rewards come later in the kids’ skills development and how their future careers choices may be honed from the experiences they’re being given by an organization such as 4-H. The same can be said for FFA, ag and tech education programs, an array of extra-curricular school arts programs, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, and the list goes on.


Anika Pinke repurposed two old farmhouse doors into a hallway bench with some carpentry, sanding, painting and finishing for a 4-H environment project this year. Pictured she explains the project to a judge at the Grand Forks (N.D.) County 4-H Statics Project judging on June 22, 2021. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)

Our youngest daughter's teacher was surprised this year to learn she couldn't name a favorite video game. We don't have video game systems in our home. Instead, we keep the girls active and their schedules filled with things like 4-H projects. The girls learned this spring and summer that their free time had to go to readying projects for the fair. They could have spent their time solely focusing on a sport, but instead, they proudly prepared.

We choose experiences for kids. 4-H static projects this year for our girls included woodworking, environment projects focused on repurposing old items from a farmhouse we were tearing down, baking, photography, small animal care, horticulture and more.

Not all of the ribbons were the coveted blue, purple or pink. One of our daughters received a red ribbon on a project. She was initially upset. Nathan and I talked to her about the learning process she took to make the rustic barn wood table. She learned. She improved. She created. It’s a useful item she wanted to create. Her definition of success isn’t defined by the color of a ribbon one judge gives. She can improve on suggestions given to her and hone her skills to expand on the woodworking projects in her future. Her disposition changed and she said, “I still love the table.”

Yes, love your work. Love your experiences. Love the skills learned. Let’s engage more kids in new experiences to build their futures. Influence the next generation to join an organization to expand their skills and learning, away from screens, away from specializing.

For our family, we started in 4-H and are sticking with it for years to come.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

Katie Pinke serves as Agweek and AgweekTV's publisher and general manager and since 2015 has written a weekly column. Pinke resides in rural North Dakota with her husband and children where she is a 4-H leader, active community volunteer, and a proud fifth-generation farmers' daughter.
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