It all began when Tiffany Thornton's parents encouraged her to take part in a 4-H public speaking contest when she was just nine years old.

"To this day I can still remember the first paragraph of my speech, which was about water pollution - 'When the well is dry, we will know the true worth of water. Benjamin Franklin spoke these words in 1776 and they were as profound then as they are today'."

What are we doing today to make the world better tomorrow?

The positive experiences Tiffany enjoyed as a 4-H'er inspired her involvement in something that would leave the world a better place for the next generation. Tiffany is a Senior Research Associate in the plant breeding unit at Corteva, where she leads a team in logistical operations and workflows at the Miami-Missouri Research Center.

As a 3rd generation 4-H'er who is now raising a 4th generation, Tiffany credits 4-H with offering her the opportunities that led her to where she is today. Her passion for ensuring communities have what they need to thrive, but doing so responsibly and sustainably, drives her every day. The 4-H motto, To make the best better, continues to inspire her. "What are we doing today to make the world better tomorrow? I think that's one of the key things about 4-H and 4-Hers, to make ourselves the best, even better. Being in 4-H and having these experiences led me to where I am."

By being involved in this project I've learned so much about pollinators...
There's a place for all of us in this.

Tiffany has been with Corteva for 16 years now and knows they are an organization that resonates with these same values of helping communities thrive. "Every day I know I'm impacting that people are going to eat tomorrow."

Tiffany's involvement in the Corteva Grows Pollinators Habitat Program, which supports monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat creation across the United States in partnership with 4-H and Pheasants Forever, is just one example of how Tiffany is helping create an impact.

"Even 10 or 15 years ago we didn't hear too much about the situation with our pollinators, but fortunately that's changed," shared Tiffany. "By being involved in this project I've learned so much about pollinators; I've become more aware of what's going on and how we can be better stewards of the land. There's a place for all of us in this."

Without 4-H, I don't know that I would have ended up here.

While Tiffany didn't always know exactly what career or path she was going to take, 4-H gave her the confidence to seek it out and the resilience to push on, even when she stumbled.

"4-H taught me the ability to not be afraid to go do this other thing, even though all my friends might not have been doing it, but to go look at this because it was something I was interested in."

During college she interned for the Missouri state legislature and an ag biotech company, before deciding in her senior year that she wanted to go back to her native area and community. After some searching, an opportunity at Corteva presented itself. She began her early career leading and coordinating a team of high school and college-aged youth. She then worked on breeding corn varieties which truly resonated with her. It didn't take long for her to know she had found her calling.

4-H taught not be afraid.

For Tiffany, it all goes back to that first speech. It made her aware that there is a much bigger world out there and if we don't take care of what we're given, we might lose it. Over time, that speech has evolved into something so much more.

"Without 4-H, I don't know that I would have ended up here. I went into my high school career in the National FFA willing to take chances and opportunities because I had already done that in 4-H. I built on the foundation of experiences that 4-H provided me with."

It helps you build resilience and confidence in yourself.

Now, Tiffany is happy to be raising a new generation of 4-H'ers. Her 10-year-old daughter is showing livestock and blooming into a confident youth who is finding her own passion and learning lessons through the highs and lows of raising livestock. Meanwhile, her 6-year-old son is anxiously waiting his turn to join 4-H and begin showing himself.

"This is the good thing about 4-H - it teaches you that sometimes life is going to have challenges and setbacks, but in the end, it helps you build resilience and confidence in yourself so you can seek and discover how you can make a difference."

Governor Hochul is the first sitting governor to receive the award.

CHEVY CHASE, MD. (August 30, 2022) - National 4-H Council has awarded New York Governor Kathy Hochul with the 4-H Distinguished Alumni Medallion, an honor given to an accomplished alumnus who embodies the life-changing impact of 4-H. Hochul, a New York 4-H alumna, is the first sitting governor to receive the award. National 4-H Council President & CEO Jennifer Sirangelo and 4-H'ers from Cornell Cooperative Extension presented the award to Hochul at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, New York on August 24, 2022.

4‑H's mission is to empower all young people-regardless of background-to find their spark, develop leadership skills, and drive positive change. Through diverse programming, life skills building, and mentorship, 4-H strives to eliminate the opportunity gap facing America's kids. Delivered by the nation's Cooperative Extension system, 4-H programs build the confidence, resilience, independence, and compassion needed for youth to succeed in life today and careers tomorrow.

"I am honored to receive this award from 4-H, a rock of an organization for girls and boys that helps to provide the tools they'll need as they grow. My time spent with the 4-H community has had a lasting impact on my life and career," said Governor Hochul. "At 10 years old, I gave my first public speech as a 4-H'er at the Erie County Fair and from there, I built the confidence, courage, and valuable life skills that I draw from to this day as governor of New York."

A native of Buffalo, New York, Hochul participated in Cornell Cooperative Extension's 4-H program throughout her childhood. Her experiences varied from cooking and sewing competitions at the fair to public speeches on how to make healthy recipes. She continues to be an avid fairgoer and never misses the opportunity to visit the 4-H exhibits and have meaningful interactions with 4-H'ers.

"Governor Hochul's compassion, integrity, and commitment to public service exemplify the 4-H pledge and serve as inspiration to 4-H'ers everywhere," said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO, National 4-H Council. "Her trailblazing career is an example to young people that through determination, hard work, and persistence their dreams are within reach."

Previous recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Medallion include Aubrey Plaza, actor and producer; Craig Melvin, anchor, TODAY Show; Jennifer Nettles, Grammy-Award winning singer and songwriter; and Temple Grandin, Ph.D., best-selling author, autism activist, and consultant to the livestock industry.


National 4-H Council President & CEO Jennifer Sirangelo and 4-H'ers from Cornell Cooperative Extension present the 4-H Distinguished Alumni Medallion to New York Governor Kathy Hochul

About 4-H

4-H, the nation's largest youth development organization, grows confident young people who are empowered for life today and prepared for career tomorrow. 4-H programs empower nearly six million young people across the U.S. through experiences that develop critical life skills. 4-H is the youth development program of our nation's Cooperative Extension System and USDA and serves every county and parish in the U.S. through a network of 110 public universities and more than 3000 local Extension offices. Globally, 4-H collaborates with independent programs to empower one million youth in 50 countries. The research-backed 4-H experience grows young people who are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs. Follow 4-H on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Media Contact

Julia Majors, National 4-H Council

Creating Impact Without Boundaries Through National 4-H Council

Have you ever wondered about the journey that your dollar takes when you give to National 4-H Council? For instance: how does a dollar donated at the national level impact the 4-H club in your hometown? Or, in what ways does your gift shape the 4-H experience for millions of young people?

First, let's start with what Council does so you can be confident about where your support goes.

National 4-H Council supports 4-H at all levels. If you've participated in a 4-H program, you know they're one-of-a-kind. We work with our land-grant university partners across the country to give young people opportunities they can't find anywhere else: opportunities for kids to discover their spark, form lasting relationships, and participate fully in the world around them. When you make a gift to Council, you're building 4-H's capacity nationwide and ensuring we can continue to grow to serve more kids.

Here are just a few ways your generosity to National 4-H Council makes a difference. We support positive youth development programming that:

Fosters Relationships

Young people are introduced to caring mentors and friends at a time when it matters most.

"We have a little girl in the 4-H Youth & Families with Promise Club who told her mentor that she doesn't have any friends. The mentor told the 4-H staff member about what the little girl had said, so the coordinator introduced her to some girls in the club and told them to play a get-to-know-you game. The next day, the little girl's mom called the coordinator to report how excited her daughter was that she made new friends at 4-H. Since starting the program, her mother shared that she is much happier and more confident."

- A 4-H Volunteer

Builds New Skills

Kids learn life skills by overcoming personal challenges, discovering their passions and building their confidence.

"Because I have ADHD and high-functioning autism, I went to speech therapy to learn how to articulate what I wanted to say instead of rambling. 4-H was how I actually got to practice getting up in front of a group of people. I would not have done that before 4-H. It forced me to open myself up to those types of experiences and I learned that it wasn't as scary as I may have thought (and I actually was decent at it)!"

- A 4-H Youth

Brings Kids Together

Our national positive youth development events - the Summit series and Citizenship Washington Focus - bring together young people from across the country to focus on areas of growth that will benefit them, their communities, our country, and our world.

"I received a phone call from a mother who was almost in tears. Her daughter had been struggling with bullying and a lack of interest in projects she used to enjoy. But after she attended the National 4-H Youth Summit on Agri-Science, her mother noticed a significant change. It was the first thing she had been really excited about in some time. She told us that her daughter passionately talks about the experience everywhere she goes and was even invited to visit an agritourism farm to share her knowledge with 150 elementary school youth - teaching them the importance of pollinators and their habitats. She thanked us for such a positive experience and for helping her daughter get back on a positive life track. She can't wait to see all the great things that will come from being an ambassador, and her daughter is now considering a career in teaching as she is enjoying it so much."

- A 4-H Agent

Tackles Key Issues

We make our programs scalable so that 4-H'ers can make a real difference in their communities while addressing larger national issues. For example, here's how our 4-H Tech Changemakers program, which gives teens the resources to bridge the digital divide, created a brighter future for a struggling mom in Mississippi:

"I am a mother of three boys, and we entered a domestic abuse center in July 2021. I know that I must find work to be able to provide for myself and my boys. The center is working with the 4-H Tech Changemakers Program and encouraged me to take part in it. At first, I said 'no' because I didn't think a teenager could teach me anything. But that all changed after the first session. They were great - so very helpful and so kind. The team is helping me develop the skills I need to research and apply for jobs."

- A Community Member

Reaches Vulnerable Populations

We meet urgent needs across the 4-H network. For example, National 4-H Council created an emergency assistance fund at the onset of the pandemic so that our Cooperative Extension System partners could ask for help where they needed it most. Nearly $300,000 was awarded through 24 grants - reaching 17,395 young people with virtual camps, activity kits, gardening workshops, and more.

"We all learned so much [through virtual camp] and didn't want it to end! I loved the mix of live events, activities at home, and support videos. You guys proved COVID won't ruin camp plans. My daughter is medically fragile…and she was THRILLED to be able to join in on all the fun without COVID concerns."

- A 4-H Parent

That's just a glimpse of your giving at work. Stories like these happen every day within the 4-H family because of incredible young people and the dedicated educators who inspire them, the caring mentors who encourage them, and the generous donors (like you!) who support them.

Just like the youth we serve, your gift to National 4-H Council is limitless in how it can impact the world.

I walked through a dirt road riddled with potholes. To my left, I saw a deserted primary school with a collapsed foundation. To my right, I gazed upon a medical clinic that is almost always empty and void of a doctor. I look at homes on the street, many of which are small amid a periodic power outage. I thought back to life in the United States. It astonished me that the difference in the quality of life between two parts of the world is so stark. Initially, a sense of helplessness took over me - how could a young person like me fix such wide-ranging issues? I thought of a quote by Steve Jobs: "Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, and you can build your own things that other people can use."

While I was only in eighth grade when I visited NP Kunta, the rural Indian village that my dad grew up in, I had been "building my own things" for years. With my local 4-H robotics team, I had been challenged to think creatively and work resourcefully with my teammates to solve seemingly impossible problems, from debugging code to programming a vision processing system for our robot. Because I had solved big problems in the past, I was confident that I could, in fact, change the world issues I had witnessed. For this reason, in 2018 I founded Universal Help Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people around the world in innovative ways. I lead the charity in tackling issues ranging from opportunity inequality to climate change, among other initiatives. One of our most significant accomplishments has been building a fully equipped 30-bed isolation center for COVID patients in Hyderabad.

In May of 2021, both my grandparents got sick with the COVID-19 Delta variant. Living on the other side of the world, there was little I could do. As their conditions worsened and my grandma needed hospitalization, the true scale of the national shortage for healthcare became evident. After hours of calling family, friends and extended relatives, we successfully secured a hospital bed for my grandma. Others in India weren't as fortunate, as hospitals denied people ICU beds, COVID-19 treatments and oxygen due to high demand and short supply. Not only that but with the high population density that Indian cities have, many patients were forced to quarantine near their families, risking the health of their loved ones. When I realized this issue, I got to work. I obtained support from the local government to partially fund an isolation center and organized onsite nurses, doctors and medical supplies for the center. Beds were always full with patients needing ventilators and extra medical care. I have no doubt Universal Help's efforts have had far-reaching impacts on the city and its residents.

Today, I look back at this project and think about how it all started - from my insistence to improve living conditions in my father's village to my disbelief at the lack of medical care in India during the Delta surge. If I had believed my doubts, this life-changing project would not have happened. However, with the confidence and problem-solving skills I gained through my 4-H robotics club, I was able to find the courage to change, influence and build things which transformed lives.

Meet the people of 4-H who are breaking down barriers, creating change, and inspiring others.

As educators, community activists, industry experts, innovators, and leaders, these 4-H trailblazers are paving the way for generations to come. Get to know this month's trailblazing youth, alumni, and supporters who have created change and opportunity within their communities and bring the 4-H mission to life.

Featured 4-H Trailblazers

Jesse Lee Eller

CEO & Founder, Studio 5 - Learning + Development, Inc.

As CEO and Founder of a Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, he understands what it means to honor and value the diversity of people and of thought. Through his leadership and guidance, Studio 5 empowers people to do the best work of their lives through meaningful thought partnerships with the world’s leading human-centered organizations. In 2015, Jesse founded and launched the Cultivating Change Foundation - the largest organization globally that focuses on valuing and elevating LGBT agriculturists.

Marcus Hollan

Chief People Officer, Studio 5 - Learning + Development, Inc.

With a passion for people development and organizational change, Marcus served as the Executive Director of the Cultivating Change Foundation, a 501(c)(3) aimed at valuing and elevating LGBT agriculturists through advocacy, education, and community. At Studio 5, his focus is on building the ecosystem to attract and retain top tier talent by creating the conditions that produce a meaningful employee experience. He believes that human capital is the most valuable asset to have and that the development of people in an organization is vital to its success.

Ann Veneman

Former Secretary of Agriculture, USDA

Once named one of Forbes most powerful women, Ann Veneman has earned her place in history, both nationally and internationally. Veneman’s first notable role was serving as the Secretary of Agriculture, where she is the only woman to date to hold the position. In 2005, she was appointed as the fifth executive director of UNICEF, where she advocated for solving global hunger and children’s and women’s rights.

Dr. Carrie Castille

Director, USDA-NIFA

From Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University to state director of the Louisiana Rural Development, Dr. Carrie Castille has spent her career being a champion for education, agriculture, and rural issues. After several roles and a number of Louisiana state honors— she was the first woman inducted into the University of Louisiana Lafayette College of Engineering Hall of Distinction—today, Dr. Castille is the first woman to serve as director of USDA-NIFA in a non-acting capacity.


Congresswoman Terri Sewell

US Representative, Alabama

Congresswoman Terri Sewell credits her experiences in Alabama 4-H and a number of mentors for investing in her. Among her many accomplishments, she is notably the first woman elected to Congress in Alabama and the first Black woman to serve in the Alabama Congressional Delegation. Today, she uses her platform to advocate for voter rights and equality.

Jennifer Sirangelo

President & CEO, National 4-H Council

As the first female to serve as president and CEO at National 4-H Council, she has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business and recipient of the Female Executive of the Year Award.

Dr. Peggy Whitson has spent more time in space than any other American. She is the first woman to command the International Space Station, the first non-military Chief of the Astronaut Corps, and has completed 10 spacewalks – the most of any female astronaut. But before she became comfortable living in zero gravity, she had her hands planted firmly in the earth. She grew up on a farm outside Beaconsfield, Iowa, where her family raised cattle and hogs and grew corn and soybeans.

She knew early on she loved science, and soon she dreamed of becoming an astronaut. So how does a kid go from living and working on a farm to working on the International Space Station? We asked, and she graciously answered.

What 4‑H activities did you participate in growing up?

Dr. Peggy Whitson (PW): I showed heifers. I did woodworking. I did sewing. I did some baking projects. But for me, the most valuable thing was learning to do public speaking. Being a very shy person, that was an incredibly valuable lesson. I can’t imagine being where I am today had I not learned about public speaking and being able to do that effectively.

When did you first set the goal of becoming an astronaut?

PW: My first inspiration was, of course, when I was nine years old and I watched the walk on the moon. But seeing the first female astronauts selected the year I graduated from high school (1978), it seemed like it was possible for me, too. And so, for me, that’s when my dream became a goal.


Whitson developed public speaking skills through 4-H presentations.

What was the process of taking that goal and making it a reality? You had to at some point figure out a path, when did it come together?

PW: I didn’t know exactly how to make it come together, but I was really interested in science and I figured, astronauts had to be smart people. And I knew I wanted to be a scientist. In that first female astronaut class, there was a biochemist, and it made me think, ‘Oh, hey, I could pursue my interest in biology and chemistry and make that into becoming an astronaut.’

When I finished graduate school, I started applying to become an astronaut. It took 10 years of applications and rejections before I was finally accepted to the training program. But I started at NASA with a fellowship. From there, I ended up getting a job with one of the contractors that worked at NASA, then I started working for NASA directly a few years after that. And then, after 10 years, they decided I might be okay to become an astronaut.

It took 10 years to make it into the astronaut training program. People usually don’t see the rejection and “No’s” before someone’s achievement.

PW: There were a lot of “No’s” along the way. And in retrospect, those 10 years made me a better astronaut. Those years made me a leader. You need to learn along the way that even if your path is not a straight line, you have to learn from all the lessons that are around you, what you’re being exposed to. I really think it’s very, very important for young people to realize that you can go through life taking the easy path and do the things that are just easy for you, but you’re never going to find out what you’re truly capable of unless you push beyond your comfort zone.

How do kids today become an astronaut? How should they pursue their dream? 

PW: The number one thing is that NASA is looking for astronauts in all kinds of fields – science, engineering, every field. It’s really important to know what it is that drives you and motivates you because you need to be really good at it in order to be noticed out of thousands of people who are going to apply for the same job. You have to be a really good team player. You have to have enough different experiences in life to demonstrate that you know how to be adaptable. So, you need to be very good at something, and you also need to be a jack of all trades.

What about physical requirements?

PW: You have to be able to do spacewalks and you have to be able to think in three dimensions to do robotics. And so, it’s all part of the big picture, being able to do lots of different things.

What does an astronaut do when they aren’t in space and if they aren’t selected for the mission? Do astronauts go years without going into orbit?

PW: When I came through the Astronaut Office, there was, on average, around five to seven years between missions. Most of your life is a ground job. And that ground job is usually helping someone who is currently in orbit, like working in mission control or working on procedures for crew members who are going to be flying in the future. Or working on training to improve the training process, so we can get it done more efficiently and more effectively.

Statistics show American students are underperforming in STEM compared to other countries. What should we be doing differently from an educational standpoint?

PW: For young girls, it’s perceived as not being cool as they reach teenage years. So, it’s been my goal to promote that, “Hey, nerds are cool too.” We need to promote it and show our young people that you can do this and that there are other people who have done it. I think seeing role models that are like them helps. It certainly did for me. When I graduated high school, seeing those first female astronauts truly helped me believe that this dream I had could be real.


Whitson showed heifers as a teen. Here, she teaches a calf to lead.

You hold the female record for spacewalks (10) and you’re third overall. What is it like to spacewalk?

PW: It’s like being in a spaceship built for one. And your spaceship is providing your oxygen. It’s providing the pressurization and it’s getting rid of the carbon dioxide. It’s controlling the temperature, just like a regular spaceship does, but it does it inside of one little spaceship.

What is the hardest thing to get used to in space?

PW: Your whole life is spent in gravity and when you don’t have it anymore, you have to really adapt everything in your life. You don’t think about how many things would just be different. The paper floating off your desk, you floating out of your chair. You couldn’t type on your computer because it would push you away.

You spent 665 days in space, which is a record. Did you ever get bored up there?

PW: Some of the tests are a little bit boring now and then, but I guess I stayed motivated because I recognized that even if I was fixing the toilet or cleaning the vents, I was helping keep the space station alive. I was living and working in space, and for me, that was enough motivation to keep me going. If you don’t have anything to do, you can always look out the window and there is always something amazing to see.

Is there something that you really miss about space?

PW: Being there.

Editor’s note: This interview was condensed and lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

National Agriculture Day is March 23 here in the U.S., and it has me thinking about the long, unlikely road that led me to agriculture and the importance it plays to the future of my own family and this bigger global community I’m a part of.

Despite my role today and the great pride I have in my work, the truth is, I didn’t think agriculture was for me.

I mean like, not at all.

I grew up on a farm near the small town of Millersville, Missouri. I’m proud to say it’s the same farm my mom, dad, brother and more than 200 of the world’s finest Black Angus cows occupy today.  But, as a teenager, I was convinced I wanted nothing to do with ag once I left the farm.

I worked alongside my dad many days after school, most weekends and every day during the summer. As many of you know, one scorching July of baling hay – the old-fashioned way, with square bales – can quickly turn a person off the idea of farming for a living. As I did my chores, drove tractors, cared for cows and tended to crops, I dreamed of going someplace like Chicago or New York, anywhere but Millersville.

But I learned that sometimes you can’t really appreciate what small-town America and what agriculture has to offer until you leave and come back.

My parents were horrified when I announced my intention to major in Art History and English. While reluctantly supportive, my two very practical parents put their blind faith in me and a power higher than any of us to help guide my path. But what’s really interesting is that English and Art History eventually put me on a career path that took me as far away as the high-tech PR industry in cities like Seattle, Silicon Valley, Houston, Austin and Dallas before leading me straight back to farming first at Monsanto and now at Bayer.

I started to realize what I should have known from the beginning: All the cool things my dad did on the farm, all the biology and science, I loved all that stuff. I just wasn’t very good at them from a technical perspective. But what I was good at was taking those complex ideas and translating them into concepts that were simple to understand and communicate. I can feel my dad giving me that knowing “I told you so look” right now as I write this.

And that’s what my job at Bayer now allows me to do – which is talk about some pretty mind-blowing science we create for farmers every day and explain how that science works to benefit our entire world. The wonderful things that are happening in agriculture impact everyone on the planet, and science is at the core of it all.

National Agriculture Day is a perfect moment in time to have a focused, important conversation about the intersection of science and agriculture and opportunity. And that’s what’s so awesome about 4‑H – they bring people into that conversation.

I’m proud of the work we do at Bayer and the rich tradition of every ag institution participating in National Agriculture Day. Way back when, I was a 4‑H kid. I showed steers at the local county fair, grew prize-winning tomatoes with my grandma in her garden, and went to the Southeast Missouri District Fair in Cape Girardeau to exhibit them all. My mom took me to ceramics classes through 4‑H. I learned how to tie knots and macramé. I went to summer camps where I met lifelong friends.

All these wonderful programs continue to help close the agriculture gap by showing kids what’s possible for their futures, shaping them in ways they might not even be aware of yet. In 4‑H, I even learned public speaking skills that eventually prepared me for my role in communications. Being a 14-year-old kid full of nerves speaking in front of a crowd turned out to very helpful as a professional later in life.

Now, I have kids of my own. And while they don’t seem interested in agriculture either – the way their dad was at their age – it’s hard to say where their journey will lead them. These days I feel like my own father … gently pushing the opportunities an agri-business degree might open up to them.

My dad’s got this great saying: “The older you get, the smarter I’m going to become.” So, if anything, my path proved his old adage true. My parents are proud that I’m as passionate as I am about the work I do in food and agriculture, and the way it supports the work that they and my brother do on the farm. The experiences in 4‑H helped prepare me for a life and career I’m blessed to have.

So, in an odd way, maybe we were both right.

Although I’ve grown up on a farm my whole life, I didn’t come from a 4‑H family. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in third grade that I even began to understand what 4‑H was. Some family friends encouraged me to get involved with some of the programming that 4‑H has to offer, and after talking to them, I knew I wanted to get involved. I went to their house, and I immediately fell in love with all of their cute, fluffy cows. That one positive experience with them turned into a 10-year career that was filled with a broad variety of programs, competitions, and even starting a family livestock business.

As my 4‑H career progressed, I wanted to pass on my knowledge to the future generations of agriculturalists. I not only wanted to teach people about some of the programs I became involved with, but I also wanted to provide them with opportunities that they couldn’t get anywhere else. I began to reach out to students at my school and invite them to come to my house, do their homework, and learn about a variety of potential areas of interest through hands-on experiences. In my time doing this I brought 12 new members to the 4‑H program, and many of those have begun their own cattle herd and have continued my legacy left on them to educate others.During my freshman year of high school, I made a new friend. Her name is Anna, and she has down syndrome. While I was feeding my cows at the fair, she ran up to me and said “I do that,” which to her meant that she wanted to get involved with agriculture but didn’t know how because her abilities were different than mine. Together, we got involved with a program called PossAbilities. This program partners an older 4‑H’er with a member with a disability. These members spend time working on their projects together and learning new things. Today, Anna is active in 4‑H and she now has her own beef herd that all started because we believed in each other’s abilities.Because of 4‑H, I found my passion. I found that I love to work with livestock, but more importantly that I love to educate and advocate for others. My journey began because one person believed in me, and my journey is continuing because of resources like 4‑H at Home. Had I not gotten out of my comfort zone to get involved with 4‑H at a different level, I never would have found my passions.

While I have been stuck at home during this pandemic, I find myself wondering how I can continue to impact those around me. There is one specific resource that has still allowed me to be involved in 4‑H, and that’s 4‑H at Home. This provides activities on a wide variety of topics that can be done with friends and family. For example, you can do a hands-on activity involving agriculture, which isn’t a topic that is covered in the classroom at some schools. 4‑H at Home can introduce young people to new areas of interest, and once an activity is completed it will recommend other activities for you so you can continue your learning journey.

Here are some of my favorite activities that kids can enjoy at home, while exploring different aspects of agriculture:

You can visit 4‑H at Home and use the filter tool to find activities related to agriculture, animal science, and so many other topics. It’s a great resource for young people, and I am thankful for my friends, family, leaders, and organizations for finding new and innovative ways to get involved in 4‑H programming, even while I’m stuck at home.

Madelyn is the 2021 4‑H Youth in Action Pillar Winner for Agriculture, sponsored by Bayer.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Jehiel Oliver, an Ohio 4‑H alumnus who is leading ag innovation on a global scale. He is the founder and CEO of Hello Tractor, an agricultural technology company that connects tractor owners with smallholder farmers in need of tractor services. Under his leadership, Hello Tractor serves more than 500,000 small farmers in Africa with access to over 3,000 tractor owners.I learned more about Jehiel’s work, his family’s history in agriculture, and how he thinks young people today can drive more agriculture innovation.

Where did your 4‑H story begin, and what was the experience like for you growing up?

Jehiel Oliver (JO): I was a part of 4‑H from the first through third grades in Cleveland, Ohio. It was my teacher who was administering 4‑H curriculum and introduced me to the 4‑H program. There were so many different things we learned, including agriculture. 4‑H is what introduced me to agriculture. I’m from the east side of Cleveland, and we don’t have farms. So that was one of the first introductions to figuratively and literally getting my hands dirty.

Who were some of your inspirations growing up?

JO: Family is always a primary source of inspiration. I come from a very hardworking family that always prioritizes doing things with your time, like taking action within your community. That has defined my career. Even where I am today—and my decision to go into investment banking—was driven by a gap that I saw within my community. I saw people who didn’t understand finance and didn’t have the same resources other communities had. So I figured that if I can develop this skill set, I can be of value within my community. That evolved to broadening my perspective globally. I can use finance to benefit global communities, which led me into agriculture—using finance to help farmers across Africa and parts of Asia where Hello Tractor operates.

Can you share some of your family history in agriculture?

JO: My great uncle, who I knew very well, used to work at John Deere as a technician for over 30 years in Alabama. And what was inspiring for me to learn was he used to volunteer at Tuskegee University towards the end of George Washington Carver’s career. He is also responsible for introducing many agriculture best practices that we know of today. He worked as a Cooperative Extension agent with Thomas Monroe Campbell, the first Cooperative Extension Agent and helped launch the Extension System. Together, they supported ex-slaves and Black sharecroppers to introduce best practices into their farming activities. That work allowed them to grow more, earn more income, and be better stewards of the land. And I’m doing the same thing in countries in Africa and Asia, which kind of brings his legacy full circle.

Why do you think it’s important to tell stories like that of your uncle and other African-American farmers and pioneers in agriculture? 

JO: Our history often gets overlooked. That’s why Black History Month exists because those stories aren’t always being told. However, in understanding those stories, you begin to see yourself in new spaces because you can trace back. I have a legacy in this industry. It wouldn’t be so difficult for a young person to see themselves as a farmer if they knew that some of the best farmers in American history were African Americans. I think having that understanding is important. It certainly gave me a lot of confidence as a professional and brought even more excitement to the work that I was doing.

What inspired you to start Hello Tractor? 

JO: I wanted to be as impactful as possible, and I’m also a big believer in using commercial markets to solve massive problems. You scale the solution and address issues by leveraging commercial players who have financial interests in supporting you in solving the problem. I started my career in finance, where I eventually worked in microfinance—which is popular in parts of Asia and Africa. These were banks that generally serve lower-income populations to provide loans and other financial services that typically aren’t extended to those populations. That attracted me to this idea that I can use my financial background to support low-income communities in these emerging markets, leading to an awareness of farmers’ challenges. Many of the borrowers in these banks are low-income farmers who make their money on the farm. However, many of the microfinance institutions would not lend to agricultural activities because of the risks. That piqued some curiosity on supporting farming in these developing countries and supporting the farmer while minimizing the risk. I landed on mechanization, and as a result, founded Hello Tractor.

Farmers pay for mechanization services every year. It’s something that they need as it increases their income, yield and productivity. It also addresses some of the changes affecting farmers in emerging markets, such as rapid urbanization and aging farm populations, and depleting laborers. So, machines are needed now more than ever, and Hello Tractor was my solution to this labor gap in these rural communities. If you’re growing on a small plot of land—like most of our farmers do—you can’t afford to own your equipment. But having access to a tractor is just as good. We built a circular economy model around this concept that farmers can book services from a tractor owner that will be affordable, reliable and convenient. And as those tractor owners deliver those services, they can earn income. It’s been a little over six years now, and we’ve seen some extraordinary success stories coming out of the work that we’re doing through Hello Tractor.

What are some ways we can provide young people with meaningful experiences and opportunities to discover their passion for agriculture, especially when they feel like those opportunities are out of reach? 

JO: I think there’s a wealth of opportunity for a young person, especially now with technology and innovation taking hold in agriculture. Now is the time to get in front of the innovation curve, learn as much as you can, and bring those learnings back to the farm. I think curiosity will be an essential ingredient to their success as they think about a career in agriculture. There are so many ideas that can fill the gap.

What advice do you have for Black 4‑H youth and young alumni who want to positively impact the world through their work?

JO: I’m so impressed with these young kids that I come across who, for them, the sky quite literally is the limit, but have already overcome so much. The tools that are developed as you overcome all these challenges are opportunities. I think a lot of times, we look at the wrong side of the narrative. We think about challenges, and there’s this prevailing narrative around bias towards Blacks and women—which I can’t speak to directly. But if you think about the other side of that narrative, you have overcome all these obstacles that it takes a special kind of person to overcome. I guarantee you that it is unique, and it’s something that you can build on. It shouldn’t be viewed as a limiting factor; it should be seen as an asset. That pressure creates diamonds out of coal, and there are so many little diamonds around us who don’t know that that’s what they are. So, we must help those young people recognize that in themselves. Anyone who faces adversity and gets through these high-pressure situations, there’s value in those experiences, and it’s something of which you should be proud.


*The Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide, non-credit educational network. Each U.S. state and territory has a state office at its land grant university and a network of local or regional offices. These offices are staffed by experts who provide useful, practical, and research-based information to agricultural producers, small-business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes.


This interview is a part of a series of blogs supporting 4‑H’s Community Impact program emphasizing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion – an effort sponsored by Nationwide®

Nationwide, the Nationwide N and Eagle and Nationwide is on your side are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. © 2021 Nationwide

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Avery Williamson has quite an impressive NFL career that spans seven years. What’s also inspiring is his love of farming. The fourth-generation farmer and Tennessee 4‑H alumnus has a passion for agriculture, and he’s paying it forward to the next generation of diverse farmers.

I caught up with Avery to discuss why it’s important to find your passion and create more opportunities for diversity in agriculture.

What was life like growing up on your family’s farm?

Avery Williamson (AW): I grew up on my family’s farm in Milan, Tennessee. It was right down the street from where my grandpa and great-grandpa’s farms used to be. I spent a lot of time outside as a kid and started helping my dad around the farm when I was six years old. My dad was a truck driver, so when he was away, he would leave me in charge and give me responsibilities on the farm, including feeding and taking care of our cows. It wasn’t easy at times because I’d usually have to work on the farm before school or afterwards when most of my friends were out having fun.

After I went to college and entered the NFL, my dad continued to work on the farm after retiring. During my second year in the NFL, I learned that one of my teammates had a farm. So that inspired me to invest in our family farm. I purchased new equipment, more cows, and the rest is history. I love it. Unfortunately, I don’t get to go back as much as I want to right now, but it’s something I really love. I’m passionate about farming, and it’s what I want to do when I retire. I think managing a farm is something that not many people think a Black athlete would be doing.

How did your experience in agriculture shape who you are today?

AW: My dad always said that the hard work I did on the farm made me tough for football. It instilled a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility at a young age. When I was in 5th grade, I knew I wanted to get into football, so to work out, I built a track in our hay fields to pull a car tire back and forth every day, rain or shine, in between school and my farm chores. I eventually worked my way up to a tractor tire before I went to college.

In elementary school, I learned a lot about agriculture and taking care of cows through Tennessee 4‑H. 4‑H supported my passion and interest in farming, building skills that helped with our family farm and in business which I still use to this day.

Why do you think it’s important to uplift stories like yours or those of other Black farmers? 

AW: It’s so cool for kids to hear these stories because it could inspire them to explore careers or interests in agriculture. The world runs on agriculture—from the clothes we wear to the food we eat. We’ll rely on young people to bring fresh ideas and talent to the agriculture industry in the future. That means making sure all voices are heard. As an athlete, I have a great platform. So hopefully telling my story and stories of my family will inspire others.

What are some of the challenges facing Black farmers today?

AW: For my family, even growing up, we continue to face racism. Others would see the hard work we put into our farm, the resources we have, and think we aren’t deserving of them because we are Black. A year ago, someone opened the gate to our farm, and nearly all of our cows got out. We experience these kinds of incidents to this day. But we never let it deter us from what we love to do. We’re proud that our family has always had our own land, all the way back to my great-grandpa.

In what ways are you inspiring young people to find their passion, as you found yours, whether in agriculture, sports, or other interests?  

AW: I try to lead by example and help young people to see their own potential by continuing to show my work ethic and my passion. I’ve stayed consistent. I tell kids all the time that even when you are successful in something, you have to keep pushing. Continue to motivate yourself through the good and bad moments.

So, what brought you back to 4‑H, and why are you partnering with the organization? 

AW: My 4‑H and agriculture experiences helped shape who I am today. I am so much more than a football player because of it. So I wanted people to see that side of me and to pay it forward. Through my partnership with 4‑H, I’ve been able to share what a day in the life of a farmer is like by inviting aspiring farmer, Ohio 4‑H’er Joyona Helsel to my farm. We had so much fun. We rode in my tractor, baled hay, and picked fresh vegetables from the garden. Joyona even tried a beet for the first time. I love to share these experiences with young people and show them that there’s more to farming than they might think. And I hope to continue to open up my farm to more kids. I want to use my platform to give kids opportunities and experiences that could inspire an interest in agriculture.

What are some other ways we can continue providing young people with meaningful experiences that will impact and change the course of their future?

AW: Hands-on experiences are key. For example, it’s essential to get kids out on the farm when it comes to agriculture. Let them experience it. Every kid learns differently. Along with traditional classroom learning, kids need the opportunity to see it, live it, and experience firsthand what interests them. It can be life changing.

What advice would you give to a young person who has a passion for agriculture and wants to find their purpose in the field? 

AW: Don’t give up on what you love to do. There are a lot of opportunities, especially for Black farmers. For any person of color, you can be successful in agriculture.



This interview is a part of a series of blogs supporting 4‑H’s Community Impact program emphasizing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion – an effort sponsored by Nationwide®

Nationwide, the Nationwide N and Eagle and Nationwide is on your side are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. © 2021 Nationwide