Nestled in the hills and valleys of southwest Wisconsin you will find yourself in beautiful Vernon County. Vernon County is proud of its longstanding 4-H history. It all began in 1922 when Agricultural Instructor R. A. Power traveled to rural schools and enrolled youth in garden, corn, dairy, and pig projects. The first community 4-H club organized outside of school was the Bishop Branch Sewing Club in 1926.
Today there are more than 450 youth involved in 16 different community 4-H clubs in the county 4-H program.
“The 4-H program is successful largely due a very committed group of volunteers, which number about 150,” said Colleen Pulvermacher, 4-H Youth Development Educator.
Pulvermacher says Vernon County 4-H is unique in that the 16 different clubs offer families a wide variety of meeting locations, times and emphasis.
“The Vernon County 4-H program is generous, providing partial funding for active 4-H members to take part in opportunities beyond Vernon County, such as the very popular 4-H camp, which is often the highlight of the summer – for both campers and teen counselors,” Pulvermacher said.” Additionally, Vernon County 4-H has developed a confidential process to provide support for families with extenuating financial situations.”
4-H members in middle and high school have opportunities to travel to space camp, serve as camp counselors, teach healthy living lessons, provide project leadership to younger members, all while building their own confidence and other skills they will use throughout their lives.
The volunteers are essential to the success of the 4-H program and efforts are made to support, educate and honor volunteers consistently. This is done through the biannual Leader Retreats, a model of supporting, educating and honoring volunteers that has earned Vernon County 4-H state, regional and national recognition.
“Several other 4-H programs across the country now utilize this model of volunteer support that started right here in Vernon County,” Pulvermacher said.
Updating the horse barn at the fairgrounds from tie stalls to box stalls has been a longstanding issue in Vernon County. With the support of the fair board, the 4-H horse project members and leaders made this transition a reality through a strategic donation drive, soliciting grant monies and many hours of plain old hard work.
“4-H volunteers with 25+ years of experience in our 4-H program are actively involved in the 4-H program by assisting with mailings, and serving as judges for our annual National 4-H Week Window Promotion challenge,” Pulvermacher said.
Vernon County 4-H members display their fine arts talents annually at the Festival of Arts. Judges typically are college students at UW-LaCrosse. The 4-H youth love to learn from these college students and the college students get a taste of encouraging youth through constructive feedback.
The state fair is a big deal in Vernon County with members exhibiting sheep, swine, dairy, beef, or sharing their talents in music & drama, photography and arts & crafts.
“The county fair, of course, is a big deal and particularly for our 4-H program because of our 4-H food stand,” Pulvermacher said. “Several years ago the 4-H members, volunteers and families committed to building a brand new 4-H food stand. This was a huge undertaking and we all learned a lot by taking on this project.”
Vernon County 4-H has excellent support from the community, particularly the local media and area businesses that are supportive of the 4-H program, Pulvermacher said. “It’s a longstanding joke that the 4-H agent often goes over her allotted time to talk during Gary Gilbertson’s Old Time Show, and that’s simply because there is so much going on in the world of 4-H!”
When youth graduate from 4-H it is interesting to reflect on the difference 4-H has made in their lives.
“Often 4-H graduates tell stories of experiences of trial and errors, learning to be confident when speaking with a judge, new friendships, a better understanding of themselves and the world,” Pulvermacher said. “Vernon County 4-H is indeed making its mark in the lives of young people in Vernon County, and that, indeed, is something to crow about.”