Meet Berkley Barnes: From shy 4-H mini-member to legislative change agent

State Representative Rep. Dana Trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce, honors Berkley Barnes on the house floor as the 2023 St. Lucie County Fair Queen. Courtesy Terri Ziudema, 4-H program specialist at UF/IFAS St. Lucie.

How does a shy youth grow into a confident and inspirational young leader advocating for legislative change at the state level?

For Berkley Barnes, a 17-year-old St. Lucie resident and 4-H member, the journey entailed participation in the robust Florida 4-H youth development program, combined with the support and guidance of mentors and role models. She was also driven by her determination to overcome challenges and acquire new skills.

“As a junior in high school now, I have participated in many extracurricular activities and as each one continues to build my character in public speaking, legislative policy and networking, 4-H has been my solid ground and an organization to call home,” she said.

Barnes’ journey with 4-H began in 2012 as a mini-member of the 4-H small animal club. She learned to show her rabbit at the fair and gradually overcame her shyness by acquiring public speaking skills as she interacted with visitors in the small animal barn. Barnes admits these early experiences demanded a lot of her time but also offered exciting new learning opportunities.

“I still remember my first 4-H meeting when I was 5 years old. I remember feeling nervous and unsettled hearing about having to give demonstrations, let alone trying to make new friends, but the rest is history,” she said. “With each passing year, I have now blossomed into a leader who is ready to take on anything and every opportunity 4-H gives me.”

As she continued her involvement in 4-H, she met new role models, who mentored and encouraged her to explore new challenges and engage in civic activities. Flash forward to 2020, she received her first invitation to join the Florida 4-H State Executive Board and Florida 4-H Legislature at the age of 13.

Berkely Barnes is joined by members of the Florida 4-H Executive Board in a letter writing campaign for Camp Cherry Lake. Courtesy Terri Ziudema, 4-H program specialist at UF/IFAS St. Lucie.

“These two programs provide excellent leadership opportunities for 4-H members across the state who represent their county and district as they learn, practice and defend the theory and process of representing citizens and contribute to the making of public policies,” said John Ferguson, the 4-H agent at UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County. “Statewide 4-H programs like this contribute to the 4-H Workforce Preparation/ Career Readiness Program that we are fostering through all our 4-H projects.”

Initially hesitant about the legislative process, it became a pivotal moment in Barnes’ leadership journey. She soon discovered a passion for it, building friendships and finding joy in crafting and editing legislative bills.

“My initial impression of the legislative process was just – wow! I knew this was where I was meant to be,” she said. “It was even crazier to think that these representatives wanted to hear from me and that as a 14-year-old, I could play such a pivotal role in creating a bill just by using my voice.”

In 2021, Rep. Dana Trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce, approached Barnes to participate in the house page and messenger program in Tallahassee. This was Barnes’ eighth-grade year and Trabulsy’s freshman year in the House. One evening, after Trabulsy asked Barnes about her activities in the 4-H Legislature program, she eagerly shared her work on a bill she hoped would advance to a mock session for a vote.

Barnes’ bill proposed that students who take part in Florida 4-H and Future Farmers of America receive excused absences for attending program-related events, inspired by similar legislation in Tennessee. Trabulsy recognized the bill’s potential impact and engaged in extensive community discussions to champion the cause at the state level. Although the bill faced challenges in gaining priority during the 2022 and 2023 legislative sessions, persistence paid off.

At the Tallahassee capitol building steps are 4-H St. Lucie County members taking a moment just minutes before the start of the 2023 Legislature. (L-R. Callie Post, Kylee Selph, Alyssa Coppock and Berkley Barnes). Courtesy Terri Ziudema, 4-H program specialist at UF/IFAS St. Lucie.

In the 2024 legislative session, Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, and Rep. Danny Alvarez, R-Hillsborough County, included the 4-H and FFA excused absences language in

their agricultural bill, SB 1084. On May 2, 2024, Trabulsy had the pleasure of informing Barnes that SB 1084 was signed into law.

“For the past three summers, I have attended the 4-H Legislature program religiously,” said Barnes. “It is by far my favorite event that our state 4-H has to offer and by being on the Florida 4-H State Executive Board, I get to work alongside some amazing individuals to make this event happen.”

Participants spend the year writing and editing bills, choosing legislative job descriptions, and working on committees for annual mock sessions.

“Students are challenged to debate, lobby, amend and vote on bills that affect issues that we face as Floridians,” she said. “I am looking forward to one more year of ‘LEG’ (Florida 4-H Legislature) next year for my senior year! So far, the future of Florida’s Legislature is looking bright.”

“Barnes’ story is a testament of the transformative power of Florida 4-H as youth workforce development program and the lasting impact it has on promoting community support,” added Ferguson.


The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.  |  @UF_IFAS


4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university system and Cooperative Extension System. The program provides hands-on educational programs and experiences for youth ages 5 to 18 with the objective of developing youth as individuals, and as responsible and productive citizens. In Florida, 4-H is administered by University of Florida/IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University.  |



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Posted: June 12, 2024

Category: 4-H & Youth, Blog Community, , Clubs & Volunteers, SFYL Hot Topic, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS
Tags: 4-H, 4-H Youth Development, Dana Trabulsy, Florida 4-H Legislature, Florida 4-H State Executive Board, News, R-Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County, UF/IFAS, Workforce Development

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