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Published July 06, 2015, 09:26 AM

Not just about ag, 4-H offers 'something for everybody'

Kids from across the state recently converged on North Dakota State University's campus to, among other things, compete in a cook-off using products grown in North Dakota.

By: Tracy Frank , Forum News Service

FARGO, N.D. -- Kids from across the state recently converged on North Dakota State University's campus to, among other things, compete in a cook-off using products grown in North Dakota.

The mostly girls and some boys were taking part in the 4-H Extension Youth Conference.

4-H is often thought of as an agricultural program. While the youth development organization's roots are in ag, it also draws a large number of kids from non-ag backgrounds.

Preeti Chemiti, a 13-year-old from Fargo, learned about 4-H in elementary school.

"I was curious about a lot of the subjects 4-H had to offer and I saw it as a really good opportunity to try and explore some of the subjects," she said.

She has no ag background, but wants to learn more about livestock.

"Since it's such a relevant subject for people who live in this area, I think it would be really interesting to learn more about it," Chemiti said.

In North Dakota, 50 percent of enrolled 4-H members live on farms, 36 percent live in rural nonfarm homes and towns of fewer than 10,000 people and 14 percent, like Chemiti, live in towns and cities with populations of more than 10,000 people.

Astrid Axtman, a Fargo 14-year-old, said 4-H has helped her meet new people and learn new things.

"It's a rewarding experience," she said.

Diane Hahn, program coordinator for the Center for 4-H Youth Development at NDSU, said 4-H can be a great opportunity for kids of diverse backgrounds to meet each other.

During the youth conference, Axtman participated in a cook-off using North Dakota products with Victoria Aal, a Fargo 13-year-old, and Grace Wolff, a 15-year-old from Forbes, N.D., who lives on a farm. Though they were randomly partnered for the cook-off, the girls worked easily together.

The most important thing Wolff said she has learned from 4-H is to not be afraid to approach new people.

There are still a lot of opportunities to learn about agriculture in 4-H, but Hahn said it offers a lot of other programming, too. Participants can learn about things like healthy living, communications, leadership, sciences, sewing, woodworking and cooking.

"It's not geared toward one type of kid who has one interest," she said. "There's something for everybody."

It's that variety that draws participants from all walks of life, Hahn said.

"We are getting more and more kids from larger cities," she said.

Food classes are among the more popular programs, said Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU professor and Extension food and nutrition specialist, who led the cook-off.

"I've seen continued growth in the number of kids who are enrolled in food projects," she said. "That's really hopeful for me as a food and nutrition specialist that the future generation is going to be more interested, not only in food preparation, but also in the health aspects of nutrition."

Hahn said 4-H also helps students build life skills.

Chemiti said she was shy until 4-H helped give her confidence.

"By doing presentations in front of people through 4-H, I definitely learned to be more outgoing," she said.

Area youths will also showcase projects they've been working on all year at the Red River Valley Fair, which kicks off Tuesday in West Fargo.

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