Q&A with Savanna 4-H Club Leader Brandy DeSmet

How long has the Savanna 4-H Club been around?
I’m not entirely sure, but I believe it would be pushing 50 years.

What does a normal 4-H season look like?
We learn and explore 4-H as a group. We look to our older members to take an active role with our younger ones, not just on a club level but also at a regional and provincial level. A 4-H year is usually full of opportunities for attending camps, selections, communications events, travel and project shows on all levels across the province. On a club level, our members would have been working hard raising their livestock projects and preparing them for our yearend achievement day show and sale the first Wednesday in June.

Are you disheartened that this year’s participants will not get the full experience out of the usual 4-H event?
Definitely! There is no way to replace the friendship and sense of working together that comes with in-person group activities. 4-H had to cancel so many great activities this year, ones that many of our members have not had the chance to experience yet, especially first-time members. There is no digital way to replace that feeling you get stepping foot in the showring with an animal you’ve worked hard to present and are proud of, that drive for the ribbons and sense of accomplishment acknowledged in front of a crowd filled with family and community members there to support you.

If so, what can be done to give them as normal experience as possible?
We’ve had to get creative with tech. While this seems to come naturally to the kids, there are those of us playing catch up. We are hosting meetings online, record books are being submitted to me via picture texts, and communications are all digital. I’ve had to spend a lot of time on YouTube, trying to source showing and fitting how-to videos to pass along to members to pass on some learning. Our biggest change has come in the show and sale department. We have switched to a timed online sale for our original date of June 3, and started up a district website dedicated to showcasing the members and their projects. In lieu of having an actual show, members will be putting together videos that follow their projects throughout the year, covering all they have completed with their beef projects – from animal selection to clipping them and fitting them for sales pictures and videos. Our community service switched up to writing letters to the local seniors’ lodge instead of visiting in person. It’s definitely not the same as the real thing, but there is a life lesson there as well – learning to make lemonade out of lemons, as the saying goes.

What is 4-H about?
Learning valuable life skills, building a sense of belonging and confidence, giving back to the community, creating friendships, animal stewardship, building future community members that will be a benefit to society – the list is endless.

How does one become a member?
Local clubs hold registration meetings in late September/early October. We put out notice in the local school newsletters and The Central Peace Signal, and I always reach out to the previous year’s families with upcoming dates of importance. The 4-H Alberta website has a listing of all the clubs in any particular area to reference as well.

Does your club have a motto and a pledge?
The 4H motto is “Learn to do by Doing”. Every meeting starts with our pledge:

I pledge head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world.

How does a member choose a project?
If you can dream it, it can be made into a project – provided you can find a leader to run it. While our club is predominantly beef, foods and cleaver project based, 4-H is so much more: robotics, lego, science, equine, sewing – the list is endless. The 4-H Alberta website lists many of the options, and that list is always growing.

Can you talk a bit about 4-H scholarships and grants?
4-H has a great scholarship program, and not just for agriculture based post-secondary applications. The program has a tremendous science-based application as well, with wonderful sponsorship across the board. Scholarships are awarded not only on scholastic excellence, but with a huge focus on community and 4-H involvement. I really try to encourage my senior members to take advantage of these opportunities. The little bit of time invested in submitting applications can pay off ten-fold. Last year our club was blessed to have two of our senior members (Moira McRann and Shelby DeSmet) selected for numerous awards and very substantial scholarships, enabling them to start following through on post-secondary education and continue building their “out-of-the-box thinking” approach to life that I feel we need to encourage in our youth today.

What has been your personal involvement in 4-H and projects?
Wow – how do I answer this without feeling really old? I completed 10 years of 4-H as a member, followed by a year as a junior member before I drifted away for a while. My projects where all beef-based, loading up on market steer, heifer and cow/calf pairs every year. My parents had four of us in the program. We used to joke that we needed to invest in a liner to transport our family’s show string around. My mom stepped into the leader position to ensure we had a viable club. But, then again, her daughters made up half the club at that time. As soon as my daughter was old enough to register, I stepped in for round two, and have been a leader for the past 10 years. I am slowly trying to step back a bit. I always believe that introducing new ideas and involving new people is so important to keeping programs growing, and for that to happen I need to start taking more secondary roles. On the other hand, I currently serve as District President as well. So, really, what do I know?

Final thoughts?
I will always be a supporter of the basic values the 4-H program fosters. I always stress to the kids that what you get out of 4-H is a direct result of what you put into it. Work hard, take advantage of all the opportunities in the program that are offered on the highest levels, and you will never be disappointed. There is such a big world outside of our community – learn to see beyond the fences and make it your own.