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Our Illinois 4-H Story

Sustainable seeds: That's 4-H

The bounty of the harvest. Many of us interpret this to be the ending point of nature’s annual cycle. We know that winter is here and only the warm spring sun can signal the start of another cycle. But the seed that sprouts next spring is already here. And this seed needs winter; it needs nurturing and time; there is no end to this cycle. Nature not only yielded the immediate short-term bounty of fruit, but it also provided us with tiny packages which truly represent our hope for a prosperous future – the sustainable seed.

butterfly resting on a milkweed pod

My career in 4-H has taught me there is an incredible correlation between the seeds of nature and the efforts of caring 4-H adult volunteers. These adult mentors cultivate the interests of youth and make sure these explorations of growth have what they need. These 4-H seeds are planted by 4-H adult volunteers intentionally – meaning they are done so in a safe place; done so with accuracy; done so with order; and done so knowing this year’s bounty of fruit isn’t the only goal. 4-H volunteers know they are growing seeds that will fly away in the wind someday and sprout in places they themselves have never seen or known.      

The monarch butterfly has become a symbol to many of how fragile our ecosystem is today. We have been educated to know the milkweed plant is key to the life cycle of this butterfly. To me, each milkweed plant can symbolize a 4-H volunteer. The common milkweed plant has pods that each contain approximately 200 seeds. A 4-H volunteer can easily impact 200 youth in a brief amount of time. These milkweed seeds are kept safe in the protection of the pod; held high above the ground for safety and sunlight; then once grown, provided with the freedom to fly away with tufts of support in the wind. Those are thriving moments of satisfaction to a 4-H volunteer. The moments that motivate them to keep up the good work – for which we are all very thankful.   

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Curt Sinclair is the 4-H Youth Development Extension Specialist for Shooting Sports and Environmental Education. He received his B.S. in Forestry from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in 1982 and his Master's in Recreation Resource Administration from North Carolina State University in 1988.