Judging Teams Grow Workforce Skills

Youth competing at the North Florida Fair Horticulture Judging Contest.  Photo credit: UF IFAS Leon County 4-H
Youth competing at the North Florida Fair Horticulture Judging Contest. Photo credit: UF IFAS Leon County 4-H

For parents who want their child to be prepared for the 21st century workforce, participating in a 4-H judging team may be the answer. Several universities have recently published studies on the impacts 4-H judging teams have had on workforce readiness. The University of Georgia surveyed over 1,300 4-H alumni who reported that judging programs helped them develop confidence and communication and decision making skills (McCann & McCann 1992). A 2005 University of Idaho study found that 97% of alumni indicated that their 4-H judging experience positively influenced their personal success as adults (Nash & Sant, 2005). Similar results were found in studies conducted by Rutgers and the University of Missouri. The life skills attained through judging programs are not only sought-after by employers but are applicable to most professions. In addition, these skills are not always taught in school or on the sports field but are intentionally integrated into the 4-H positive youth development program.

Florida 4-H Alumna (and national poultry and meats judging champion) Stacey Warden shared: “I would not be the person I am today if I had not joined 4-H. 4-H [judging teams] helped me learn how to speak in front of others, build confidence and gave me so many opportunities I would not have had otherwise.” One Missouri 4-H alumna shared: “I have had the chance to meet some of the greatest people in the world, visit many different states, and gain ever so vital experiences in public speaking. Giving oral reasons has helped me sharpen my speaking abilities. In today’s society, communication is the key to success (Sheppard 2005).”

Florida 4-H offers many opportunities for youth to be involved in a judging team. While livestock judging may be the most recognized, we also offer judging programs in forestry,

Leon County Master Gardeners help youth practice for the Horticulture Judging Contest.
Leon County Master Gardeners help youth practice for the Horticulture Judging Contest.

poultry, land/soils, meats, horticulture, consumer choices, horse, dairy goat and marine ecology. Mastering the subject matter content is only one aspect of the program. Youth work as a team to correctly identify animals, plants, or parts. They also have to learn to make close observations and think on their feet to evaluate the quality of an animal, plant, or product. They master communication and presentation skills by defending their choices in front of a judge (this is called giving oral reasons). The real goal of these programs is to help youth develop confidence, communication and decision making skills that will help them be successful adults in work and personal life later on.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will feature different judging opportunities that will be available this fall at the North Florida Fair. This week, our feature is on the 4-H Horticulture Judging Program. Do you know the difference between opposite, alternate, whorled and palmate leaves? Can you tell the difference between poison ivy and Virginia creeper? Do you know what to look for when purchasing shrubs for your landscape? Youth involved in the 4-H Horticulture judging team do! Horticulture judging is a great way to learn how to correctly identify plants and learn about Florida’s horticulture industry, which is ranked second in the nation and is a billion dollar industry for our state!

Getting started is easy! First, download a copy of the rules and glossary. Begin to familiarize yourself with plant terms so that you can become proficient at plant identification and use of keys. Next, take a look at the online tutorial. There are four modules:

Last but not least, quiz yourself- visit a local grocery store or nursery and see how many fruits, vegetables and plants you can correctly identify! The next opportunity to participate in a horticulture judging contest will be Saturday, November 12th at the North Florida Fair. The state contest is usually held in Gainesville in July in conjunction with 4-H University,

If you have a passion for plants or the horticulture industry, consider coaching or participating in a 4-H horticultural judging team. Together, let’s grow 4-H to help the next generation develop 21st century workforce skills for Florida! Contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office to sign up as a volunteer or member, or visit http://florida4h.org. Next week, we will feature our consumer choices judging contest.


McCann, J. S., & McCann, M. A. (1992). Judging team members’ reflection on the value of livestock, horse, meats, and wool judging programs. The Professional Animal Scientist, 8, 7–13.

Nash, S. A., & Sant, S. L. (2005). Life-skill development found in 4-H animal judging. Journal of Extension [Online], 43(2) Article 2RIB5. Available at:http://www.joe.org/joe/2005april/rb5.php

Sheppard, L. (2005). Where would I be without 4-H? Missouri Ruralist, October 2005.


Posted: September 16, 2016

Category: 4-H & Youth
Tags: 4-H Alumni, 4-H Events And Activities, Alumni, Fair, Horticulture Judging, Life Skills, Panhandle 4-H, Plant Sciences, Workfoce Preparation, Workforce Preparation

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