The 4-H youth development program has a long history in the Sunshine state and in Leon County. Exploring 4-H history can provide learners with some unique insights on not only the history of the 4-H movement, but also on the history of our county, our state and our nation.
The Early Beginnings – 1912
Girls’ tomato clubs were started in 11 counties, including Leon, by Agnes Ellen Harris, the first county home demonstration agent of Leon County, Florida. Miss Harris left her position as head of Home Economics at Florida State College for Women in order to become Florida’s first home demonstration agent. Each girl planted and harvested tomatoes on a 1/10 acre plot. The tomato clubs were organized through the schools. The home garden and kitchen served as the laboratory. Home demonstration agents visited rural schools, talked about the tomato clubs, and left enrollment forms with the teachers. After getting their parents’ permission to join, the girls completed enrollment cards and mailed them to the home demonstration agent. The agent then sent tomato seed, planting instructions, and a record book to each enrolled member. Until 1914, the home demonstration agent only worked part of the year.
In the fall of 1916, the first group of Negro home demonstration agents were taught canning in tins at the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Tallahassee. The work was conducted mainly through clubs called farm makers clubs and home makers clubs, in which boys and girls participated. The boys cultivated 1/2 acre of corn, 1/4 acre of peanuts and 1/4 acre of sweet potatoes. The girls grew 1/10 acre of tomatoes and preserved many products from the farm.
In 1923, there were 115 girls and 15 boys in the 4-H program. When Mrs. Kellum voluntarily resigned in 1933, she had grown the program to 190 girls.
In 1963, all three 4-H programs (boys, girls and African-American youth) were combined to one program opened to all youth in Leon County.
Throughout the years, project work in Leon County included gardening (tomatoes, peanuts, cotton, etc.) crocheting, canning, and livestock projects Camping at Lake Bradford and annual trips to 4-H Camps Cherry Lake and Timpoocheeoccurred with the boys and girls. Negro boys and girls camped at Doe Lake in the Ocala National Forest. Poultry and embryology seemed to be predominant with the boys and girls programs.
Personnel in Leon County 4-H
Agnes Ellen Harris served as Leon County Home Demonstration Agent beginning in 1912. Home Demonstration Agents in the early years were responsible for the 4-H work in Leon County. From November 1923 to April 1, 1933, Ruth Bogardus Conibear Kellum served as the Home Demonstration Agent.
After 1933, the home demonstrations agents included Miss Ethyl Holloway (1933-36), Miss Rosalie Wolfe (1936- ), Mrs. William Roberts, Mrs. Lura Dyer Noland, Mrs. Eva Richardson Culley and Mrs. Mamie Scott Russell. The boys program was led by various Agricultural Extension Agents, including J.T. Hurst, Frank Robinson, J.A. McIntosh and G.C. Hodge. Richard Hartsfield was responsible for the Negro boys and girls programs for many years beginning in the 1950’s. Together with the Home Demonstration Agents, the boys, girls and Negro 4-H programs flourished in Leon County.
Personnel records are unclear of exactly who did 4-H work during some years, however, it is clear that Mrs. Mamie Daughtry was the Home Demonstration Agent in the 1950-60’s. In this time period, the full-time 4-H Agent title was established in Leon County. From 1969-72, Ann Paramore was the 4-H Agent before becoming a Home Economics Agent. Jane Brody was hired as 4-H Agent in 1972; she was followed by Lorraine Sanders in August 1973 till August 1975. In the early 70’s, a second full-time 4-H Agent was brought on to the staff. Lawrence Heitmeyer was hired in February of 1973 with a 90% 4-H Agent “appointment,” 10% agricultural. Elaine C. Shook joined him in September 1975. In 1979, the Leon County Extension 4-H Department was established with Heitmeyer as the 4-H Program Leader. In 1981, Heitmeyer was promoted to Leon County Extension Director and Shook became the 4-H Program Leader. Between 1981-1993, various additional Agents were hired in 4-H, including David Dinkins. In November 1993, Marcus D. Boston, Jr. was hired. In December 2005, Shook retired and the 4-H Program Leader titled was abandoned due to policy changes on the state level. Tracy A. Tesdall joined Boston in January 2006.
Today in Leon County 4-H
The purpose of Leon County 4-H is to develop leadership, character, and good citizenship in America’s youth. By emphasizing the development of the Head, Heart, Hands, and Health, 4-H leads youth to produce their best. Adult and youth volunteers lead local school and community 4-H clubs, advising and encouraging club members as they plan and carry out projects.
4-H is open to all youth ages 5 to 18 regardless of race, religion, sex, national origin or handicap and involves urban as well as rural youth.
There are over 300 research based project areas available. Some of the projects and activities to choose from are: Citizenship, Clothing, Marine, Foods, Health, Recreation, Leadership, Agriculture, Horticulture, Natural Resources, Animals, Photography, and Forestry.
Primary programming in Leon County 4-H ranges from 4-H club development, environmental education, teen leadership programs, talent shows, area horse shows, summer camps (at Camp Cherry Lake,) Florida 4-H Legislature, poster & photo contests, forestry & wildlife contests, embryology, babysitting workshops, the North Florida Fair and the 4-H/Tropicana Public Speaking program.
In 2008, there were 24 4-H clubs with more than 400 club members. An additional 8,000 school-age youth were reached though camping, school enrichment and special interest programming.