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Poultry Club Gives Minority Children A Taste Of 4-H

Cindy Spence

Susan Luttrell (904) 362-2771
Jacquie Jacob (352) 392-5594

LIVE OAK—At 14, Kelli Neal might seem young for a chicken farmer.

But in her community, she’s an old pro. With almost a year of experience behind her, she shows other friends ages 7 to 14, how to pull henhouse duty.

She was quick to learn lesson No. 1 about farming: It’s a daily responsibility. So day in, day out, she collects the bounty of 50 Leghorn laying hens. She knows what to look for in inspecting eggs as she cleans them and packages them for sale at the local farmers’ market.

Kelli and her friends have 4-H coordinators and extension faculty at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences beaming. These youthful chicken farmers represent a major success at getting minority children involved in 4-H, a task that has not been so easy in the past.

Recruiting minority 4-H members and adult volunteers was difficult before the poultry club got started, said Susan Luttrell, 4-H coordinator at the Suwannee County Extension Service. Statewide, 4-H figures reflect the problem: Of the 285,166 young people enrolled in 4-H clubs, only 23 percent are black.

“We’d ask these children, ‘Wouldn’t you like to be in 4-H?’ and they’d look at us and say, ‘4-what?'” Luttrell said.

The poultry and horticulture club got started with an $8,000 grant from the Florida A & M University (FAMU) Center for Cooperative Agricultural Programs. The grant was targeted at involving more minority children in agricultural activities, and the 4-H poultry club was the perfect fit, said UF poultry extension coordinator Jacquie Jacob, who wrote the grant with extension poultry specialist Ben Mather.

The Suwannee County School Board offered acreage that happened to be in the middle of a predominantly minority neighborhood, so transportation would not be a problem for the children in the club.

The walk-right-up atmosphere has helped the club blossom into more than a 4-H activity. Now, the whole community is involved, with a vegetable garden next to the henhouse and plans for a playground on the site so

younger siblings can play while club members tend the hens and garden. Each club member also planted a row of pumpkins to sell on the Halloween jack-o’-lantern market.

“The members named the club Children of the Community, and it really reflects that,” Luttrell said. “It has really become a community effort.”

Audrey Howell, a FAMU business development assistant who works with the club, says she is heartened by the club’s success. After seeing how 4-H benefited her own children, she was disappointed to find there was not a 4-H club in her neighborhood when she came to Live Oak.

“We’ve had to beat the bushes to get children and leaders to participate but now they love it,” Howell said. “This is a rural area, but a lot of the kids still don’t know about farming. They call Live Oak the city.

“Here at the club site, they can plant their vegetables and see them grow and then eat from their garden. It’s something to see,” Howell said. “It teaches them that you don’t have to go hungry, you can raise your own food.”

The children are committed to the club because they have seen that others are committed, Luttrell said. Jacob and Mather have served as unofficial advisers, unusual roles for some extension faculty. And Jacob, for one, helped hammer nails to build the little green henhouse.

The children also are beginning to venture into 4-H ranks beyond their community. Three members competed on a poultry judging team at the state 4-H contest, and two others attended 4-H summer camps, opportunities they would not have had before the club started.

If the local market is any barometer of success, the club’s financial future should be secure. The club’s eggs draw the highest prices around, with most patrons paying $1 per dozen, although the eggs are marked at only 75 cents.

“They sell the eggs, and that teaches them to become entrepreneurs and it teaches them to be responsible, how to handle money and be friendly to customers. It’s giving them something to do,” Howell said. “It’s hands-on and children need to be involved in more hands-on educational projects. That’s what I love about 4-H.”

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