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Not Your Mama’s 4H Project Ideas

Christian Szabo

Cari Donaldson - published on 01/27/14

Putting all that time and creative energy to some things that would be extra useful.

Around here, January marks the beginning of the 4H season.  My oldest daughter loves 4H because it gives her a chance to hang out with other weird, chicken-loving people while simultaneously encouraging her to cultivate practical skills.

I love 4H because its recordkeeping requirements force a degree of organization onto my daughter that she would normally avoid.  The group also strives to cultivate leadership skills and civic responsibility in its members, and it doesn’t ask us to sell even one kernel of popcorn (I’m looking at you, Cub Scouts).

However, sitting there at the kickoff meeting last night, I realized that there is the slightest tendency to focus on the ridiculous in 4H.  Somewhere around the 30-minute mark of listening to the minutiae of poultry showmanship, I got the distinct feeling that the ability to show another human being a chicken’s vent may not be the most spectacularly useful skill.

So, as my toes slowly went numb from the cold in the unheated barn and the crowing of a dozen roosters lulled me into a sort of stupor, I thought of some 4H projects that would be really useful.

Beefy Peace Dove Breeding Program: After reading about the demise of the white doves Pope Francis released the other day as symbolic signs of prayers for peace in the Ukraine, I knew this should be the first project the local 4H kids should undertake.  I’m thinking that just a few generations of careful breeding could yield a better peace dove – one with increased speed, agility, and predator sensing abilities.  Also, if the kids could figure out how to include laser beam eyeballs to be employed only when all evasive methods had failed, that would be cool, too.  I’m not exactly sure what symbolic message that last addition would convey, but laser beam pigeons is a pretty fantastic idea, regardless.

City Beautification Program, Philadelphia: With rumors that the Pope may make a 2015 visit to the States to attend the World Meeting of Families, Philly’s dubious presence on Travel and Leisure’s “Dirtiest Cities in the U.S.” title may finally be ended.  While interesting theories about the loss of neighborhood cohesion and pride in community have been put forward as the cause of the litter epidemic, I think the 4H kids could come up with a more pragmatic solution based on their agricultural experience. After all, a group of kids who have to put in two hours of barn duty for every type of animal they show at the fairs know a thing or two about filth and how to swiftly deal with it.  They could enlist the help of Eagles fans, who are renowned for their… enthusiasm.

Space-Time Temperature Redistribution Program (Domestic Scale): Sure to appeal to fans of 4H’s Environmental Science and Alternative Energy program and Doctor Who devotees equally, this project has two fronts.  The first one finally nails down that annoyingly elusive time travel thing, and the second front uses time travel to establish space-time links between our houses in summer and winter.  A temperature redistribution link is established so some of that heat and humidity I spend all summer griping about heats and humidifies my house during the winter, and in return, cold, dry air is sent back to the past.  Goodbye, polluting heating and cooling systems; hello, clean climate control – and time travel!

Clearly, these ideas are just a jumping-off point, but after looking at the happy, intelligent (if a bit stiff from the arctic conditions in the barn) faces of the young adults around me that day, I felt confident that these projects could be competently tackled while leaving ample time to practice chicken showmanship techniques.

Cari Donaldsonis the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale.  She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at


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