Terresa Wright from Amery, Wis., was 14 when her parents put the question: Would Terresa and her two younger sisters like to keep the family dairy farm going?
That was four years ago, and the girl's answer was a unanimous "Yes!" So the Wrights extended their cow barn and expanded their farm to 744 acres. Today, Terresa's own 30 registered Holstein cows play an important role in this dairy operation. Her earnings are invested right back into the farm. And she's launched on a college degree in agriculture to make sure that she is not only an enthusiastic but also a well-trained modern farmer.
Terresa gives a great deal of credit for her skills and enthusiasm to 4-H ("Head, Heart, Hands, Health"), the national network of youth clubs that has taught city as well as country youngsters about farming and and other practical skills since the turn of the century.
This year Terresa's eight years of 4-H membership paid off with a trip to Chicago as one of 1,700 teen-age delegates to the National 4-H Congress.
The delegates come from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, representing the 5.1 million 9- 19-year-old 4-H club members. And though Terresa's 30 cows might seem to set her apart from the average American teenager, here she's very much among equals.
Another young delegate, Mark Richardson from Virginia, has spent six years building up his own herd of 62 beef cattle --Illinois earned one of this year's 287 4-H scholarships by raising hogs, beef, and more than 30 varieties of hybrid corn.
This year's scholarships, worth $265,250 altogether, went to young men and women whose years of 4-H projects have proved their commitment to the 4-H motto "To make he best better." Like Terresa, Mark, and Scott, each state and national winner was selected on the basis of his or her 4-H record book, which gives detailed accounts of each 4-H project including all expenses and income.
The list of winners includes successful sheep breeders like Oklahoman Jacqueline Pfeiffer; swine breeders like Virginian Joan Baker, who says she started out "as a very timid eight-year-old who was frightened at the sight of a 220-pound market hog," and garden vegetable growers like Montana teen-ager Kent Burnham.
But there is also an impressive showing of nonfarm projects. Alan Javornik from Colorado thinks 4-H work has given him a head start toward the career he plans in electronics. After learning the art of computer programming, Alan developed a project to teach other 4-H members about computers.
Virgil Hill from North Carolina took advantage of the 4-H sewing program to make eight suits for himself and has taught sewing to a class of 22 girls -- in addition to looking after his 33,000 chickens.
Another North Carolina youth won a 4-H forestry scholarship award for developing a new stacking system for "solar drying" lumber. "Property stacked lumber will cut costs, hold varnishes better, paint and glue more easily, be straighter, have less shrinkage and swelling, and machine more easily," says 16 -year-old Eric Huneycutt. Eric expects to earn direct benefits from his new system because he'll soon start cutting pine trees he planted himself.
Alabama teen-ager Lisa Wigginton put her 4-H training to use by helping her family renovate and furnish an old house.
Californian Maryaam Goshgarian won recognition for organizing summer classes for children of migrant workers and running a toy-colletion drive in addition to her "regular" 4-H project of training guide dogs for the blind.
Along with the great variety and inventiveness in the projects, at least some traditions remain. All Six national scholarships for projects dealing with horses went to young women -- such as californian Lynnda donat, who trains horses and recently sold one of her champion jumpers to the captain of the Japanese Olympic equestrian team.
Such successes result from a great deal of hard work and dedication. They also depend, say today's scholarship winners, on 4-H. Winners are quick to point out that they rely on the half-million volunteer 4-H workers -- and on the unique combination of support from the US Department of Agriculture, the state land-grant universities, and more than 60 private sponsoring organizations such as the American Quarter Horse Association, International Harvester Company, Kraft inc., Westinghouse Electric Corporation, and Weyerhaeuser Company.
The end result for 4-H members isn't just more productive corn fields and new systems for controlling soil erosion -- although these and many more advances came from this year's crop of 4-H teen-age projects.
For Terresa WRight, the real payoff comes in 4-H's reaching out to the nonfarming community. She says she has been "really proud to be in farming" ever since she first showed her cows at the Winsconsin State Fair and found that "one little girl thought you actually pumped the cow's tail to get milk." Since then, she has been more active than ever in showing visitors around the family farm, signing up nonfarm children for 4-H programs, and helping set up a program for "kids who can't have their own horses."