4-H for City Kids: Learning the ‘Secret Handshakes’

I always wanted to be in 4-H. I like lists, and I like checking boxes. I also was a crafty kid, always makin’ something. Always wanting to try something new, something creative! So, imagine how my heart went pitter-patter when, as a kid, my friend down the block, a big-time 4-Her, showed me a long yellow card-stock page with a list of fun activities (‘Clowing’ and ‘Rabbits’ were two that I remember, for some reason), with little checkboxes next to them, and my crafty box-checking creative heart just leapt!

I’m not sure why I never joined 4-H. I don’t fault my parents – I think they thought, like I also thought, that 4-H was just for kids that lived in the country, or had access to ‘the country’ – like my horse-obsessed friend down the street who had a horse. But not in the city. In the country. Which she could go to. To be with her horse, and do …I guess…4-H stuff? I also never really understood how checking a box could make me a clown.

Imagine my delight when I realized my kids could fulfill my OWN dream of being in 4-H, and we could still live in the city! So, we joined 4-H.

And though city kids definitely CAN be in it, it has somewhat of a ‘must be in-the-known-ness’ to it that can be a little…..I don’t know..humbling, I guess?

Take, for instance, our fundraising carnival. We sold raffle tickets. In actuality, we sold them to ourselves. In small print on the raffle stub was written, “This is your entry ticket”. So, the stub was your ticket in, to spend more money, at the carnival fund-raiser, which we also all had to take shifts working at. Don’t get me wrong – it was tons of sugar-coated fun, really, it was! But it almost ended in disaster as we walked in, and were asked for out ticket.

“Ticket?” I asked blankly, and saw the stubs taped to an ice-cream-‘ticket collection’-bucket.

“Yes, your raffle stub is your ticket.” Said the helpful volunteer, who I do not fault at all – they were just doing their job.

“Oh, well – we already turned our tickets in to our leader….And I didn’t think I would need the stubs.”

“Well, you do. That’s your ticket.”

I kind of just stared at the ticket-taker. I was sizing the volunteer up – if we all sprung through the gym doors and proceeded to spend more money in frenzied abandon, and the volunteer tried to physically stop us, demanding we purchase MORE raffle tickets, so we’d have TICKETS – could I take her?


But I sighed and left my family sitting forlornly on a bench while I looked for our group leader to see if I could scrounge some ticket stubs up so we could get past security. Without having to pay another entrance fee. Really, do you carry your raffle stub with you? But, as I was told when I took my scrounged stubs to the ticket-taker, to her credit nicely and somewhat apologetically, “This is just how we always do it.”

So, there was that. I just thought the whole thing was weird. But again – secret handshake.

Fair exhibiting and all that goes along with it is also a little bizarre to me, a newbie mom. There is the 4-H dress code, which is oft-referred to, but was printed once in a handout this year. A handout I couldn’t find for the life of me. I couldn’t find it on the website, or in any other publication. I had to look at another state’s newsletter to figure out that we’re supposed to wear a white, green, yellow, or grey shirt with the 4-H emblem on it, or an emblem patch affixed to it. Cool, ok. Not too hard.

And, what is a premium? I’m guessing its a little prize. But, premium isn’t ever defined, but is constantly referred to in the fair book.

I could go on. But, let me say, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience and I’m thankful for the employees and volunteers, both in our club and at the county extension office. I look forward to many years of participating – er, my kids participating.  With my hovering, obsessive ‘guidance’.

4 thoughts on “4-H for City Kids: Learning the ‘Secret Handshakes’

  1. Suzie says:

    Laura, I’m so glad you’ve stuck with it! And I hope Leo enjoyed his first year as a Cloverbud.

    It is a lot to absorb the first year, and each county does things ‘differently’. Our county is VERY different from Ward county, where I grew up as a 4-Her. Even premiums are set up differently for county fairs/Achievement Days. There is a ND State Fair 4-H book, once you get your hands on one, keep it for reference. You can download it from the 4-H website – it’s under the NDSU extension site: http://www.ndsu.edu/4h/programs_events/state_fair/

    And, keep thinking about that open class! You have some great produce, canning, etc. that YOU could exhibit, as well.

    • Laura says:

      Thanks, Suzie – we’re definitely sticking with it – and your family is very inspiring when I think of the future for 4-H!! 😉 Hope everything is going well at the State Fair so far for everyone. Are you guys butchering pigs in the fall? Keep me in the loop, if you would!

  2. John says:

    LOL. I like check boxes too!

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