The greatest harvest may be the next generation in agriculture

DairyPalooza cow clipping

Back in the day, when I began my teaching career, I remember clearly from my methods of teaching class that curriculum about values was discouraged. It was a topic that belonged in the home with parents. Needless to say, times have changed and we have come full circle in our attitudes.

Core values

Recently I came across a post on Facebook about the top nine reasons why 4-H makes you a better person. All were based on common sense and the core values of positive youth development.

The real surprise was the response of some who were anxious to criticize livestock projects. My gut reaction was to respond and defend, but such arguments have no ending.

Teaching values

The only win-win alternative was to use space like this to remind us how we can teach values as volunteers and leaders. After all, we have made an obvious choice to invest in growing the next generation.

It is evident that parents still have the most control when it comes to teaching the values of life, but if you are involved with youth organizations, you play a supportive role.

At the right moment and time, you can and will be an extremely influential mentor and you may never know when that teachable moment is within your grasp!

Good judgement

Growing the next generation is nothing short of good judgement. No one ever said it was easy, but it isn’t simple being a kid either. There is no manual, but there should be an awareness that our values are tested as we teach.


Faced with such challenges, It is a wonder that any of us survives. Within the 4-H structure, parents, kids, and volunteers have certain “jobs.” The job of children is to become more independent and responsible as they grow up.


For we adults, the job is to strike the right balance between giving kids space and helping them to make good decisions. The end goal is to teach kids how to successfully grow up! For example, instead of just telling others why livestock can teach us so much about winning, losing, chores and responsibility, we must provide the chance for kids to explain why!

We don’t always have to show up for arguments, but we must display a presence by believing in what we do and demonstrating that belief. This goes back to the “learning by doing ” notion. With such a core value, we can lay the groundwork for good choices and better communication skills.


Some of the 4-H rules are already in place and we must consider those, but as the parent or mentor, it’s also important to establish the rules kids, in general, will adhere to – and what the consequences will be if those rules are broken.

No matter how unhappy kids may appear when presented the rules, no matter how upset they may be when dealing with the consequences, statistics show that kids are happiest when they know their boundaries, understand the rules and feel that you care enough to say, “No” when it’s necessary – and mean it.


Of course, there are many ways that kids can exercise their independence. When over the course of up to 10 years in 4-H, they gain the freedom to make their own decisions. It then becomes our job to look for situations where we can give kids opportunities to make decisions, within guidelines, that will help them strengthen their own judgment. This will also help to strengthen the trust that all mentors need for a healthy relationship.

Good decisions

Good judgment is essential in making good decisions and good kids learn this skill best by our examples.

Here are few guidelines, not rules, to practice.
– Give them responsibility
– Let them problem solve
– Make room for mistakes
– Teach them to be happy – not perfect

Next generation

As we come to the season of thankfulness and we celebrate gratitude, please take a moment to think about the greatest product of agriculture. It may not be the technology that will feed the world population, the research that will improve animal health, or even facilities that will adhere to animal comfort. It has been and always will be about the values we instill in the next generation.

We spend hours investing in one another as a family of learners. We give of ourselves as we manage the needs of our animals and we learn commitment to a farm that will not allow us the opportunity of closing the door on Friday.


In agriculture, we share a common bond that brings us together in grief and happiness. In those simple acts of caring and sharing, we demonstrate how to value and grow the next generation. Indeed that is the most important crop we will ever harvest!


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!

Previous articleAdvice to pioneers: Don't take on too much
Next articleCo-ops like CHS at tipping point
Bonnie Ayars is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.