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Eye on the Environment: 4-H'ers play with worms, toilet paper and more at virtual camp

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4-H campers learn about making worm bins at summer camp.

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By David Goldstein, Special to the Ojai Valley News

Anyone who has been to the Ventura County Fair knows the 4-H program helps many local youths learn how to raise farm animals. Each year, it is big news when kids associated with 4-H sell prize-winning cows, goats, sheep, chickens, or rabbits they worked hard to raise, learning important life skills. However, the farm and livestock projects are just one facet of an organization offering youth many opportunities, including education about sustainability.

“Some people think of 4-H as an animal program, but it really offers much more than that,” said Susana Bruzzone-Miller, the Youth Family and Community program manager in Ventura County. “We help kids find their spark.”

In addition to the 4-H community club program, 4-H has a School Enrichment Program primarily serving kids who do not belong to the clubs. Both programs are based at the University of California Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Santa Paula. For the School Enrichment Program, trained volunteers deliver agriculture literacy, nutrition, and environmental education to youth countywide. The program offered distance-learning opportunities during the period of COVID-19 restrictions.

Last summer, 4-H staff partnered with environmental educators from the city of Ventura and coordinated a virtual version of the popular annual 4-H Sustainable You! Summer Camp for youth countywide. Focused on environmental sustainability, each day was devoted to lessons on water, land, air, energy, and food. Youth engaged in fun, interactive online lessons.

The lesson about water included an experiment showing how various paper products dissolve in water. Comparing how toilet paper, supposedly “flushable” wipes, tissues, and paper towels dissolve into water, campers learned only toilet paper should be flushed down the toilet.

The lesson about land included identifying various types of discards and sorting them into categories of recyclable, compostable, and landfill.

The day devoted to energy included lessons about conservation of electricity and sustainable methods of energy generation, such as solar, wind, and geothermal.

Included in the day focused on food were lessons about various types of food, where food comes from, how to reduce packaging and waste of food, and how to calculate in “food miles” the effect of transporting food into a location rather than growing it locally.

Expanding on the program’s success, 4-H established a virtual 4-H Sustainable You! afterschool club during the school year, expanding on the summer camp curriculum.
At the direction of the statewide 4-H office, staff offered the online summer camp again last week, but after a long period of social isolation, kids wanted to get out of the house and participate in physical activities, not sit for more virtual learning, so the program was canceled.

“This was the first time since 2014 that we had to cancel the camp, and it breaks my heart,” said Bruzzone-Miller.
However, 4-H offers many more sustainability-focused school enrichment activities. Through the “Distance Learning” section of the organization’s local web site, http://ucanr.edu/4hschoolenrichment, lessons involve plants, worms, beans, and management of kitchen leftovers.

Physical classroom-based outreach will start again this Fall, and although the “classroom outreach” tab on the local 4-H website, http://ucanr.edu/4hschoolenrichment has not yet restored an appointment making tool to arrange for classroom presentations, educators can contact Bruzzone-Miller at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to schedule for next school year.
In one very popular offering, educators present worm composting lessons in the classroom, teaching the importance of turning food waste into usable compost for the garden. Students observe live red wiggler worms and participate in building a worm bin.

4-H claims on its website to be “America’s largest youth development organization,” with nearly six million participants on an ongoing basis, bigger than scouts or the YMCA.
The four “H” letters in the 4-H program logo stand for head, heart, hands and health, as the organization’s pledge says, “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for the environment, my community, my country and my world.”

For more information on the 4-H community clubs contact Valerie Zeko, 4-H Representative at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

— David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with Ventura County Public Works, Integrated Waste Management, may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 805-658-4312.

— David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with Ventura County Public Works, Integrated Waste Management, may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 805-658-4312.

 

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