When your survival depends on feeding a growing world population, who better to call than a 4-H alum who has spent his professional career working to maximize crop outputs on every acre. Sam Eathington's connection to agriculture started young growing up on a grain and livestock farm in west-central Illinois.

"4-H gave me an opportunity to learn more about the science behind the farm," Sam said. "Although I grew up on farm, exposure to new people and elements of agriculture fostered a passion that I still apply in my work today."


We asked 4-H members and leaders the things for which they were thankful. Their answers make us smile during this time of Thanksgiving.

1. Life Skills

We have a holiday tradition in our home. No, it has nothing to do with putting up decorations or cooking our favorite holiday recipe. Ever since the children were old enough to understand, we always try to do one thing.


Every time we go in a store to shop, we drop something in the kettle. The thought is simple, if we have enough money for ourselves; we have enough for others. You may have a similar tradition, such as sponsoring a child or senior citizen during the holidays, or supporting other local giving opportunities.

Some members do 4-H projects, then there is Anthony Warmack's version of a 4-H project. For years, he has made environmental sciences his passion.

Robert Woodruff of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance has collaborated with Anthony on water quality and nutrient loss projects in the area. "I was impressed with his knowledge and ability to understand the information we were researching."

Anthony is a recent 4-H alum from Grundy County who now works at the county Extension office. Anthony attacked natural resource education in three-phases.

What makes an Illinois teenager decide to travel to a new country and live for weeks with a family she's never met? For Lana Fitzgerald, it's adventure of the unknown.

Lana was part of the 4-H intercultural exchange program and lived with a host family in South Korea for four weeks last summer. Korea holds special meaning for the Champaign County 4-H member. She first studied the country as part of her 4-H intercultural project. Since then, Lana has immersed herself in Korean culinary, music and drama.

Lessons come wrapped in all types of boxes. Here are five lessons every 4-H member knows.

#5: You aren't going to win every time, and that's okay. How you lose is just as important as how you win.

hereford cow drawing

As we look toward a summer filled with 4-H shows, we encourage you to remember this:

It's never about winning; it's about being part of something more than yourself.

It's never about being perfect; it's about being your personal best.

It's never about beating someone else; it's about beating your last effort.

It's never about losing; it's about learning what you can to keep from losing the next time.

It's never quitting, never giving in or giving up, never selling out or selling yourself short.

It's like suddenly seeing the world in a new way.

That's how teens attending the Illinois 4-H Illini Summer Academies describe their time studying with University of Illinois instructors this week.

From quantum mechanics and mutagenesis to honey bee health and family interactions, U of I staff allowed Academy teens to peek in the windows of emerging technologies, scientific investigation, and human development explored on this great campus.

To say 4-H at the Illinois State Fair was a success would be an understatement. Stir gently the 3,300+ exhibitors, a national media announcement with representatives from Google and Gov. Bruce Rauner present, perfect weather, an estimated 20,000 visitors to our exhibit area, and I can't imagine a better recipe to showcase what it means to be an Illinois 4-H member.

Google is donating $1.5 million dollars to advance computer science education around the country. Illinois was chosen for the site to make that historic announcement during the Illinois State Fair.

We're listening now more than ever.

Jump over to 4-H.illinois.edu and look at the new Illinois 4-H website. Yeah, we did that!

Illinois 4-H is a thriving, growing, vital program reaching nearly 200,000 Illinois youth a year. In the past five years, while other youth organizations have faced a decline, Illinois 4-H has grown and not just a tiny amount. We've grown 24 percent.

Some 4-H teens have taken the "hands to larger service" challenge of the 4-H pledge to heart and focused their 4-H energy feeding their neighbors. Clare VanSpeybroeck was recently honored by Illinois 4-H as a state community service award winner for her efforts fighting local hunger. Together, with her team of 4-H Hunger Ambassadors in Rock Island County, more than 115,000 meals have been distributed in Rock Island County alone.

4-H, the largest youth development program in the nation, is calling on all alumni to raise their hands to help bring 4-H to 10 million youth by 2025. Currently 4-H empowers nearly six million young people in every county across America, including 26,500 4-H'ers in Illinois.

Google made quite a splash at the Illinois State Fair.

Rob Biederman, head of Google's Midwest external affairs office, and Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of National 4‑H Council, announced a $1.5 million dollar grant from Google to the national 4-H program to expand nationwide computer science education. The pair made the announcement in the Orr Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds surrounded by more than 3,000 Illinois 4-H members and their families during the Illinois State Fair.

To say we at Illinois 4-H are happy is an understatement. We're giddy.

BRANDT believes so much in the future of agriculture, the Illinois Ag company put the icons of the two greatest youth development organizations, 4-H and FFA, on the hood of its race car. Early September was the unveiling of the 4-H clover-adorned racecar, and Illinois 4-H was at Chicagoland Speedway, courtesy of BRANDT and company founder Evelyn Brandt Thomas, to see it all happen.

October 1 starts the biggest week in 4-H, National 4-H Week. 4-H membership is 6 million strong across the country, with more than 25 million alumni.

Last year, more than 25,000 youth were 4-H club members in Illinois; another 170,000 youth were involved in 4-H through camps, after school programs, and school enrichment programs.