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Growing young lives and communities

They’re not fashion statements: they’re symbols. Blue-and-gold corduroy jackets have been worn and loved by young men and women across Kentucky for nearly 90 years, linking the state’s past and present through service and agriculture—the cornerstones of Kentucky Future Farmers of America. 

Likewise, the green four-leaf clover logo of 4-H in Kentucky and elsewhere stands for its four pillars: head, heart, hands and health. Both groups have impacted the lives of many Kentuckians of all ages. Their legacy? Creating a better understanding of the state’s agriculture sector and producing well-rounded individuals. Their influence on students shines through as alumni of these programs step up to advance the interests of their communities. 

“Service learning is embedded in everything we do at 4-H,” says Madison Wilmoth of LaRue County, a freshman agriculture education student at the University of Kentucky and former state 4-H president. “Whether you are learning something about agriculture or sewing, you’re challenged on how could you use this to help your community? Could you sew masks for your local nursing home to donate?’” 

Olivia Moore, who was a Western Hills High School FFA member in Frankfort and, like Wilmoth, is now studying agriculture education at UK, says, “FFA provided me a community and a place I could call home. 

I was able to connect with like-minded students not only at home but across the nation.” 

Moore says the debt she owes to the organization has been paid back through her service to her community and her family. “If it weren’t for FFA I wouldn’t be where I am today—from my advisors to other members, the support apparatus around students is tremendous,” she says. 

No longer just cows, sows and plows 

Kentucky FFA, with nearly 16,000 participants, shapes young Kentuckians and guides them in becoming the community leaders of today. 

One way that Kentucky FFA prepares students is through the opportunity to participate in a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) project. An SAE project “is a hands-on opportunity to learn work skills, earn money, experience entrepreneurship and more,” says Sheldon McKinney, executive director of the Kentucky FFA Foundation. “In the 2020-21 school year, students worked 1,687,952 hours on SAE projects and earned over $11 million.” 

The Kentucky FFA Foundation also awarded over $75,000 last year in small SAE grants for students to launch successful businesses, McKinney adds. 

Now-UK student Moore, a Blue Grass Energy consumer-member, was the first recipient of this grant. She used the grant, the power of social media and lessons learned from her FFA alumni parents, Myron and Pamela, to turn her family garden into a booming produce box delivery business called Moore Goodness. 

“Moore Goodness is an agri-entrepreneurship focused on providing fresh, local and reliable product to the local community,” Moore says. “Since 2017, my operation has expanded and now includes a greenhouse operation. I produce 5- and 10-pound fresh produce boxes, potted mums and hanging baskets and planters, bedding plants, and vegetable starters.” 

Former state 4-H President Madison Wilmoth, LaRue County. Photo: UK Agricultural Communications Services
Children ages 9 through 18 can get involved in Kentucky 4-H in all 120 counties, such as this lamb livestock showing. Photo: Kentucky 4-H Foundation
FFA students learn to grow flflowers as part of their classroom work. Photo: Julie Fritsch/Kentucky FFA Foundation
Olivia Moore, Frankfort, turned her family garden into a booming produce box delivery business called Moore Goodness. Photo: Colleen Shaffffer

4-H: Skills for a lifetime 

Students interested in leadership and agriculture can also be found learning through Kentucky’s 4-H programs in all 120 counties, involving about 200,000 youth in hands-on learning opportunities. Those programs go a long way in advancing a future leader’s head, heart, hands and health 4-H pillars. 

4-H has long enhanced leadership abilities of young Kentuckians. Melissa Miller, executive director of the Kentucky 4-H Foundation, says the organization prides itself on, among other things, teaching kids skills that will take them through adulthood and be used in their future careers. 

“We want to see a spark in each youth and watch them thrive through the skills they are learning from Kentucky 4-H.” Miller says. 

Wilmoth, the former state 4-H president, says 4-H offers plenty of opportunities for a young person to not only learn skills, but to find something that provides that spark. It’s not just for farm kids, she adds. 

“4-H is for all youth who want to build on their interests, whether it’s robotics or agriculture or cooking or sewing. 4-H is a family that really lets you express and better your-self,” says Wilmoth, a recipient of the organization’s prestigious Emerald Service Award, and whose family is a Nolin RECC consumer-member. 

It’s no surprise 4-H has had such an impact on her life: Her mother, Misty, is her county’s 4-H youth development agent. 

“I was born into 4-H. I can’t remember my life without it,” she says. “4-H has given me, along with thousands of others, so many things.”

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