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What is 4-H?

4-H is the youth development phase of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

4-H is “learning by doing”.

4-H is “involvement”.  Youth, families, peers and communities actively participate in the learning process.

4-H creates a sense of belonging, involvement and support.

4-H allows members the opportunity to share thoughts and skills with others.

4-H encourages the growth and development of the citizens and leaders of tomorrow.

4-H unlocks doors and challenges minds.

4-H helps young people shine.


Volunteer leaders, teen leaders, Extension Educators and interested adults assist youth in acquiring knowledge, developing life skills and forming attitudes that will enable them to become self-directed, productive and contributing members of society.

History of 4-H

Since its humble beginnings more than 100 years ago, 4-H has grown to become the nation’s largest youth development organization. The 4-H idea is simple: help young people and their families gain the skills they need to be proactive forces in their communities’ and develop ideas for a more innovative economy. That idea was the catalyst to begin the 4-H movement, and those values continue today.


As one of the first youth development organizations in America, 4-H opened the door for young people to learn leadership skills and explore ways to give back. 4-H revolutionized how youth connected to practical, hands-on learning experiences while outside of the classroom.


During the late 1800's, researchers at public universities saw that adults in the farming community did not readily accept the new agricultural discoveries being developed on university campuses. However, they found that young people were open to new thinking and would "experiment" with new ideas and share their experiences and successes with adults. In this way, rural youth programs became an innovative way to introduce new agriculture technology to their communities.


The seed of the 4-H idea of practical and "hands-on" learning came from the desire to make public school education more connected to country life. A. B. Graham started one such youth program in Clark County, Ohio, in 1902, which is considered the birth of the 4-H program in the United States. The first club was called "The Tomato Club" or the "Corn Growing Club". T.A. "Dad" Erickson of Douglas County, Minnesota, started local agricultural after-school clubs and fairs also in 1902. Jessie Field Shambaugh developed the clover pin with an H on each leaf in 1910, and by 1912 they were called 4-H clubs.


When Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 and created the Cooperative Extension System at USDA, it included work of various boys' and girls' clubs involved with agriculture, home economics and related subjects, which effectively nationalized the 4-H organization. By 1924, these clubs became organized as 4-H clubs, and the clover emblem was adopted.


The Cooperative Extension System is a unique partnership of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the 109 land-grant universities (in every state and territory) and more than 3,000 county offices.

As a publicly funded, non-formal collaborative national educational network, Cooperative Extension combines the expertise and resources of federal, state, and local governments. Cooperative Extension is designed to meet the need for research, knowledge and educational programs that enable people to make practical decisions.


Through the local county and state offices, Extension staff provides research-based information, non-formal educational programs and technical advice directly to individuals, families and communities that enable them to be self reliant and improve their lives. Historically, these efforts have been described in various ways - as major projects, programs, areas or core programs.



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