By Matt de Simone
A lot of Botetourt County’s youth have felt the “COVID effect”—remote learning, lessoned groups activities, and in-school learning. As kids across the county return to four full days of school, some of the usual school activities will soon begin taking shape. One organization looking forward to the kids returning to school is Botetourt’s 4-H.
Virginia recently shifted to “Phase III” of the COVID re-opening agenda. That shift welcomes organizations like 4-H to resume some in-person services and educational programming in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Family and Consumer Services, 4-H Youth Development, and Community Viability.
Virginia Cooperative Extension works with Virginia Tech and Virginia State University as a liaison between the research and development at those schools and the local community. Kate Lawrence and Tyler Painter are Botetourt County’s agents that have remained busy in their office despite the restrictions implemented by the state over the course of the 2020 pandemic.
Painter is Botetourt County’s 4-H Extension Agent in charge of positive youth development. During the 2019-20 school year, 4-H had in-school programs working out nine of the 11 Botetourt County schools. Their nine community clubs were operating regularly outside of schools.
“Obviously, when everything shut down in March, we had a couple of events we had to cancel,” Painter explained. “A lot of the work I’m doing in the schools are soft skills development with public speaking and dramatic reading. Those programs were cut down [due to schools closing].”
The 4-H summer camp was also shut down as a result of the restrictions. Painter and his team have since worked to develop new virtual programs for the youth. At the end of last year, 4-H offered kids “Twelve Days of Christmas in a box.” The program consisted of activities over the course of 12 days that ranged from a cooking demonstration to tie-dying. 4-H designed the program to keep kids busy over the holiday break. Painter is planning a “Spring Break in a Bag” similar to the activities 4-H offered kids over Christmas.
The spring season shapes up to be a busy one for Botetourt’s youth involved in community clubs.
Lawrence is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent that works with the local farmers.
“A lot of these clubs are made up of kids not sitting in front of the computer,” Lawrence said. “It takes a lot of work for these clubs to come together, but a lot of clubs can still meet and do things.”
The Livestock Club is one of Lawrence’s specialties. She teaches youth about agriculture and the different aspects of a farm. One of the more popular projects is a poultry chain where kids learn how to raise chickens and later present them in a contest and hopefully sell their eggs.
“That’s a cool project because you don’t have to have a lot of space,” Lawrence continued. “You don’t need a farm or a lot of experience. It’s easy for little kids as the program acts as a starter set.”
Older kids in the program work with cattle, goats, and sheep. All kids keep a log of their spending and operations throughout the program. They learn about nutrition and genetics. More importantly, the kids learn about responsibility and compassion. The Livestock Club is planning to rev up the livestock program once again this spring.
“Everything we do has life skills development in mind,” Painter added. “There is a wheel of 200 different things that our clubs can help target.”
When Lawrence isn’t involved directly with 4-H, she runs a beef/cattle marketing program. She explained that Botetourt County is traditionally a cow/calf area, which means most cattle farmers have a group of cows that have babies once a year and the program sells the calves. She works with farmers to better wean the cattle away from their mothers and feed the calves along the way until they’re older.
Another aspect of the program is organizing the farmers to bring all of the cattle in for buyers so they have a better look at the livestock. By cooperatively marketing the cattle, farmers can get $75 more a head than what they could in more traditional ways. Essentially, Lawrence gets local farmers to work together through her program.
This year is shaping up to be an exciting one for the youth and adults involved with 4-H and the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
As 4-H continues the efforts to continue with the planned activities, visit the Botetourt County 4-H Facebook page for more information. For specific questions regarding this year’s 4-H summer camp, contact Tyler Painter at 473-8260.