As I reflect on 2022, the biggest highlights for me involved spending time listening and learning from 4-H'ers again post-pandemic. Their insights help me understand how we can continue to meet the very real and changing needs of young people. I am inspired by Gen Z and their willingness to tackle some of our most pressing issues and their commitment to making a difference in their communities.  

Here are a few of my favorite moments from the past year and the amazing youth and adults I met along the way.  

Digital Divide


4-H'ers are doers who are making a difference in their communities, and many participate in the 4-H Tech Changemakers program. Stephen Hayes is a part of Florida A&M's 4-H program, (4-H Youth Development (, where he joins thousands of 4-H'ers around the country who are working to bridge the digital divide in their communities by teaching digital skills to adults. You can watch Stephen and his mom, Sabrina, (an Extension agent!), interviewed on The Tamron Hall Show where they talked about their work and impact. 4-H Tech Changemakers was also featured in this New York Times article, which highlights 4-H's efforts to close the digital divide.  

Workforce Readiness


Connecting with young people and hearing what's on their hearts and minds is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I met with these 4-H'ers during the 4-H Youth Ag Summit where I learned about their aspirations - in high school, college, and beyond. Preparing the next generation with the skills needed to succeed is a significant focus of our mission. And we're grateful to partners like Google, Verizon, Microsoft, Nationwide, Bayer, Tractor Supply Company, Hughes Net and others for preparing the future workforce. Recently, extended its partnership with a $5 million computer science education grant to support thousands of young people with computer science education. Check out this article to learn more about the Google partnership. 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion


As part of 4-H's mission to create opportunity for all young people, we convened the True Leaders in Equity Institute as part of our Youth Summit Series. 4-H'ers learned leadership skills to tackle local equity issues they identified in their communities. This leadership opportunity will foster welcoming and inclusive environments for all young people in 4-H. Trustee Tiffany Atwell and I were inspired by our time with teen leaders from the Virginia 4-H Equity and Inclusion Task Force.  You can learn more about the 4-H True Leaders in Equity Institute here. And the Virginia 4-H task force here. 

Climate Change/Sustainability


In December, I traveled to Hawai'i to meet with Cooperative Extension leaders from the University of Hawaii , Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa. These impressive 4-H programs prioritize youth voice as they serve many families who identify as Native Hawai'ian and Pacific Islanders. I was honored to meet 4-H'er Jenna (above, left) and learn about how the Kona 4-H Program has helped her build confidence, set college goals, and share her Native Hawai'ian culture through dance and art. Extension leaders, including Tayna Belyeu-Camacho, Northern Mariana Islands, (right), also shared about the effects of climate change and natural disasters on their campuses and programs, how important environmental stewardship is to their 4-H youth, and what they are doing to be part of the solution in their local communities. These sentiments mirrored the data in our Teen Environmental Survey that we released earlier this year. 

Mental Well-being


Here's a fun photo from a hike I took with 4-H Youth in Action Agriculture winner Tashina Red Hawk during the Agriculture Summit at the Summit in Colorado. One of the things we talked about was our own emotional well-being, as Tashina and I both shared our own challenges and how young people and adults in our lives are struggling after the pandemic. I'm grateful for Cooperative Extension's 4-H programs that support the emotional and physical well-being of young people by encouraging positive social interactions with peers and adults.   

Food & Agriculture


There are thousands of Gen Z youth who represent the future of agriculture and food security. Equipping teens with the resilience and skills to build and run our country's agricultural system has always been a core purpose of 4-H. I was so excited to visit the New York State Fair this summer, one of thousands of events where 4-H gives young people the opportunity to showcase their projects like livestock, nutrition, leadership, art and public speaking while developing a lasting sense of belonging and purpose.  

Civic Engagement

Providing youth with opportunities to build leadership and civic engagement skills in the real world is another 4-H priority. And there's nothing better than a live classroom during 4-H Day at the Georgia State Capitol. I hope you'll enjoy this video I took in February as the Georgia State Speaker of the House led a huge stairway full of 4-H'ers in the wave. This event was special to me because it was the first large gathering of 4-H youth I attended since 2020 and it was great to see them all together, learning about leadership from 4-H alums.

My time with 4-H youth this year made me more grateful than ever for the dedication and commitment of the 4-H staff, educators and volunteers who deliver Cooperative Extension's 4-H programs locally. Thank you - you are heroes of youth development. I am excited to see what the future holds as we continue to empower youth to make a positive impact on the world around them.  

If you'd like to see and learn more about 4-H, be sure to visit our website at and/or visit our social media channels @4H and @JSirangelo. I always love connecting with people who are interested in creating opportunity for all young people through 4-H. 

Landmark $50 Million Gift to 4-H from MacKenzie Scott Is an Investment in America’s Youth

I am pleased to share this official statement on behalf of National 4-H Council.

As partner to Cooperative Extension's 4-H program, we are pleased to share the news of a transformational, $50 million gift to National 4-H Council from writer and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. Because of 4-H's expansive reach into every US county, parish, and territory, this investment will support positive youth development for millions of kids and families. Amid the serious challenges affecting our youth-from a national mental health crisis to widening opportunity gaps-the skills, confidence, and resilience young people develop through 4-H programs are essential.

"This extraordinary gift is a rare and special occurrence," shares Krysta Harden, National 4-H Council Board Chair and President and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. "With such a significant gift comes great responsibility. We will engage our stakeholders to ensure these resources lift the diverse voices of young people and create equitable and inclusive opportunities for this generation, and many future generations to come."

This gift builds upon the dedicated efforts of thousands of local Cooperative Extension 4-H educators, more than 500,000 volunteers, and millions of 4-H youth, alumni, and donors. It leverages decades of public investment from counties, states, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at USDA. And it will sustain 4-H's commitment to ensuring all young people-regardless of their background or beliefs-are empowered with the skills to lead for a lifetime. "Together, we have built a life-changing movement that serves six million youth each year," observes Jennifer Sirangelo, President and CEO of National 4-H Council. "Fueled by this historic investment, we will make even greater progress toward our shared vision: providing all young people with access to opportunity."

We extend profound gratitude to MacKenzie Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett-not only for the largest single gift in 4-H's 120-year history-but also for their belief in the strengths and influence of young people to improve the world around us.

An Open Letter to Young People from Jennifer Sirangelo

Have you ever wondered what mental health really is? Experts define it as our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health impacts our thoughts, feelings, physical health, and actions in everyday life. Now, I am by no means a mental health expert. I can't speak to the best positive mental health practices because each of us is unique, and we all manage our mental health differently. But what I can do is share my own experiences with mental health. And more importantly, I can encourage openness, acceptance, honesty and support when it comes to the mental health of America's youth.

Young people are resilient, but your needs are often overlooked. You deal with the pressures of growing up while connected 24-hours a day to your community through your phone. You work to fit in - while embracing your individuality and standing out from the crowd. You're held to so many high standards-success, beauty, intelligence, popularity.

I understand what you are going through because I was you. And in many ways, I am still you. I experience moments of high stress, anxiety, and self-doubt. But as an adult, I can seek out the resources I need to help cope. I know it's not always easy for you.

You're facing a whole new world of challenges, and it's our job as adults to listen and respond. According to a new CDC study, the percentage of American high-school students who say they feel "persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness" rose from 26 percent to 44 percent from 2009 to 2021. This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded. As adults, we can and should always provide a safe space for you to honestly share your struggles. In Cooperative Extension's 4-H program, we aim to empower you with resources to overcome the obstacles you face today and grow into the leader you want to be.

We are continually learning about how to best provide these opportunities. In a recent survey we wanted to better understand how teens feel about the environment and their evolving relationship with the outdoor world. The findings were clear, young people who spend more time outside are happier and less stressed. 4-H's approach to outdoor education puts a focus on healthier living and inclusion for all, challenging and encouraging young people to engage in, and build a life-long appreciation for, the outdoors. In other words, you don't have to do it alone.

So, I am writing this open letter to say: your mental health matters. You can find a sense of belonging in 4-H. We are committed to providing the space you need to cope and connect you with caring adult mentors who will listen and come alongside you with resources that can help.

Every day, you inspire me. I watch young people like you take on mental health with so much conviction. From rallying within your community to speaking out and protecting your friends online, you lead and advocate for your peers in a way that no one else can.

You've found your purpose. I see your courage and I'm inspired.

Never stop being honest about your mental health and reaching out to the adults who can help.

Find your local 4-H.

In 4‑H, we recognize that the Hispanic community consists of various groups representing different Latin American countries contributing significantly to the American mosaic. As we continue to grow, we are committed to strengthening our understanding of all the diverse communities we serve. This Hispanic Heritage Month, 4‑H honors and celebrates the Hispanic/Latinx youth, professionals and families within our community.

As a part of our celebration, we learn from our community of leaders within the 4‑H and Cooperative Extension system who foster a welcoming and inclusive space for Hispanic youth and families. Meet Laura Valencia, Extension Agent II, 4‑H Youth Development, University of Florida IFAS Extension, Dr. Lupita Fabregas, Director, Missouri 4‑H Center for Youth Development, and Liliana Vega, 4‑H Youth Development Advisor, University of California.

How does your 4‑H program engage Hispanic youth and their families/communities?

Laura Valencia (LV):
 As a 4‑H agent with UF/IFAS Extension Osceola County, my goal is to ensure our county’s diverse youth population has equitable access to the 4‑H youth development program. We accomplished that by providing a wide range of culturally relevant opportunities to our community (Osceola County is 55% Hispanic/Latino). For instance, Juntos 4‑H is a program that helps Latino youth in grades 8 to 12 and their families gain the knowledge and skills they need to bridge the gap between high school and higher education. Additionally, 4‑H Soccer for Success uses a holistic approach that looks at the child and the community to address the many barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential. Lastly, 4‑H is improving the Osceola County community by helping children establish healthy habits and critical life skills by making these opportunities more accessible.

Lupita Fabregas (LF): In Missouri, we designed a strategy to engage new audiences—a road map. A holistic multilevel approach with specific actions taken by our team to create a culture of inclusion into their Extension programing. Those actions include: reviewing policies and procedures; marketing campaigns; redesigning job descriptions; redefining effort levels and specific growth objectives; selecting an Intercultural Competence framework to improve academic and staff intercultural competence; inclusion of the term ‘parity’ to reach new audiences; and selecting areas around the state with a larger Latino population. We also develop and grow programs like Soccer for Success and Juntos 4‑H to engage Latino communities. Lastly, we focus efforts on writing grants to support engaging new audiences while accepting the challenge of building an inclusive and engaging culture.

Liliana Vega (LVega): In San Luis Obispo/Santa Barbara County, we create culturally relevant and responsive youth programs for Latinx youth and families. This includes partnering with local community organizations to make youth programs are accessible and culturally appropriate to Latinx families. We also look for ways to bring the program to Latinx families rather than expecting them to come to us or come to a program if it is not inclusive of their needs. Lastly, we recognize that 4‑H can and should look different to meet the needs of Latinx youth and families to foster positive youth development and support a positive racial-ethnic identity.

Why is it essential to incorporate culture to foster a welcoming space for Hispanic youth and families?

 As a Youth Development Extension Agent, I play a crucial role in helping our youth feel like they belong, not just in our program but in their community. I know first-hand the difference creating a sense of belonging can make in a child’s life. When you belong, you feel safe. Today, amid national conversations about equity and inclusion, more than ever, youth need to know they are cared about by others and feel a sense of connection. Participating in experiences like 4‑H creates fellowship, gives the opportunity to feel physically and emotionally safe, and helps youth thrive.

LF: Culture is who we are and affects all aspects of our lives, from the food we eat to the kind of programs we would like to join. Latinos like me need to see our culture reflected in programs like 4‑H. From examples of programming that foster and appreciate our cultural values to welcoming communities that embrace our culture with respect and appreciation.

LVega: In all bodies of youth development research, research indicates the need to express care and foster a sense of belonging. For Latinx families, this includes welcoming their whole identities, including their culture, cultural values and customs, and racial and ethnic identities. For youth of color, developing and fostering a positive racial/ethnic identity is critical. The more we can help Latinx youth feel valued, respected, and welcomed, the more we ensure they have a positive sense of self, thus leading to positive youth development.

Young people have a vision for their future that takes root in their community. The homegrown experiences and hometown connections, many of which originate in rural communities, drive their personal and career growth journey. But far too often, those rural communities are forgotten, resulting in a lack of resources for basic, yet essential, needs like education, career opportunities and healthcare.The Rise of Rural Living, the Fall of Rural Resources

According to the 2018 U.S. Census, 30,000 millennials left large cities for rural living. As this generation continues to make its way back to small towns for a slower pace and peace of mind, things are looking up for those communities. However, a long-standing problem reveals itself—the digital divide.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), approximately 14.5 million people in rural communities don’t have access to high-speed broadband internet and millions more lack the digital skills needed to use it productively. In addition, teens today are feeling the strain from a lack of quality broadband. In a recent 4‑H study on the digital divide, 43% of rural teens surveyed plan to leave their hometowns and 34% of those teens cite poor internet connectivity as the reason. As a result, these towns are losing talent and future innovation. With a surge of young families and many students adjusting to a  digital learning environment, many rural communities risk falling behind.

Prioritizing Place-Based Investment

4‑H and Tractor Supply Company are investing in rural communities through skill development and community building. Collectively, our organizations meet young people in rural communities where they are by delivering resources to ensure they have the tools necessary to succeed in life and career.

Our partnership includes a bi-annual Paper Clover campaign which raises funds that directly impact the operations and continued growth (or impact) of local 4‑H programs.

Tractor Supply has supported 4‑H since 2010. The success of the Paper Clover fundraiser is a testament to the generosity and support of its team and customers for 4‑H’s mission.  The donated funds remain in the state so the young men and women in the communities Tractor Supply calls home have access to invaluable 4‑H experiences such as hands-on educational camps, conferences, and other leadership programs. The 2021 Spring Paper Clover campaign raised over $718,000 bringing our partnership total to more than $15 million in support.  This year was all the more important as students need funding to return to extracurricular activities safely amid the pandemic.

The American Connection Project is a collaboration of Tractor Supply, National 4‑H Council, Microsoft, Land O’ Lakes, and 150+ other industry-wide organizations which provides more than 2,800 free Wi-Fi locations nationwide. This innovative alliance was recently named a finalist for Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards.—Access to these sites, including 1,200 Cooperative Extension offices and 1,400 Tractor Supply stores, ensures reliable broadband is available to communities that need it most.

As the nation’s largest youth development organization, led by America’s land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension System, 4‑H acts locally by meeting the needs of young people, no matter where they are. Our proven positive youth development programs are investments in rural communities that ensure all Americans have opportunities to grow and thrive. And youth are at the forefront of that growth. The expansion of the 4‑H Tech Changemakers program, which empowers young people to teach digital skills to adults in their community, is a vital step in preparing our future leaders and addressing the digital divide.

Eliminating the Opportunity Gap

To create a truly equitable and inclusive future for all, increased investments in rural communities are needed to close our country’s opportunity gap. Farmers, students, families, small business owners and entrepreneurs all depend on vital resources like high-speed internet access to connect and compete in a fast-changing economy. Tractor Supply and 4‑H are uniquely positioned to understand local needs and—as trusted household brands—develop national solutions.

Learn how 4‑H Tech Changemakers is empowering young people to close the digital divide.

Jennifer Sirangelo is the President and CEO of National 4‑H Council

Hal Lawton is the President and CEO of Tractor Supply Company

Young people are resilient. However, there are moments that we all face that can sometimes turn our world upside down. This was the case for Ben, who was faced with uncertain circumstances when his father was deployed to Iraq—a challenge many military families face. Thankfully, 4‑H offered Ben and his family the support they needed during a difficult time.

“4‑H filled the gap in my life by providing me community, confidence and connection,” Ben explained. “And for that I’m eternally thankful to be a military kid and a 4‑H’er.”

4‑H offers much-needed support to military-connected youth, giving them opportunities to discover their spark, build confidence and curiosity, and most importantly, foster a sense of belonging and consistency during uncertain times.

We’ve seen that life-changing impact through the personal stories of our youth leaders:

Sophia, who launched a program to help military kids cope with the effects of deployment.

Amelia, who joined forces with her local 4‑H club to provide care packages to veterans.

Tay, who found comfort and connections when joining 4‑H after his dad served two terms in Iraq.

For the entire family, resiliency is a core component of the 4‑H experience, as military families navigate the difficulties surrounding deployment and reintegration, frequent relocations, and other challenges related to military life. The peace of mind that comes with knowing your children are engaged in high quality programs with caring adult mentors further supports military mission readiness for our service members who put their lives on the line for us every single day.

The support 4‑H provides is made possible through the 4‑H Military Partnership, a collaboration of military and land grant university partners working together for military-connected youth, families, and communities in the U.S. and abroad to thrive.  In FY19 alone, more than 63,000 military-connected youth participated in 4‑H opportunities and over 2,400 military Child and Youth professionals increased their capacity to empower youth with the skills to lead for a lifetime through 4‑H positive youth development training.

“Whether it’s how to make someone feel welcome, or it’s public speaking, leadership, communication skills, or developing life-long friendships, 4‑H provides so many pathways for youth to learn, grow and work towards a brighter future,” Ben shares. “4‑H is an amazing organization; it’s more than just a club, it’s truly a home! I was lucky it was there for me as a military kid, as a nervous middle schooler, and today.”

Learn more about the 4‑H Military Partnership

National 4‑H Council and the Invisalign® brand have launched a partnership to empower and recognize young people who are creating change in their communities through acts of kindness and service—big and small. Because everyone—especially our youth—should be seen and celebrated for the good they are doing in the world.

I caught up with Kamal Bhandal, VP of Global Brand and Consumer Marketing for Align Technology, to talk more about the Invisalign® ChangeMakers Initiative and how the mother of two is inspiring her children to be a positive influence in their community.

What is a ‘ChangeMaker’?

Kamal Bhandal (KB): Simply put, a ‘ChangeMaker’ is someone who springs into action to solve a problem for the greater good of a community.

In what ways do you think the Invisalign® ChangeMakers Initiative will inspire young people to become change agents in their community?

KB: Everywhere you look, young people are actively driving change within their communities. In some instances, it may be a young person who leads a local blanket drive to donate to the local shelter, or it may be the young leader who activates their local school district to provide school lunches for families during the pandemic. There are many more examples all around the country, and often these are local stories that aren’t widely known, but provide tremendous impact in the community.

Align Technology’s Invisalign brand, in partnership with National 4‑H Council, has launched the Invisalign® ChangeMakers initiative to shine a light on these stories and elevate the young people who are driving change within their communities and bringing smiles. In doing so, we hope that more young people can see how teens just like them and feel connected to a larger youth community. Our collective goal with this partnership is to spotlight those inspiring stories so that every young person can see themselves as someone who can drive positive change within their communities.

Can you share some of the work Align Technology leads to inspire change in communities and how today’s youth can help support those efforts?

KB: Align is committed to improving the lives of our employees, customers, patients, stakeholders, and the communities in which we live and work. Our philanthropic philosophy is to support organizations whose visions tie closely to our own – improving smiles, empowering our customers through partnerships with learning institutions and foundations, and supporting and educating teens.

We are committed to developing youth leaders around the world. Here in the US, we’re actively partnering with leading organizations—like 4‑H—who are also committed to shaping and developing youth. Other partners include Junior Achievement including their S.H.E. Leads program, Boys & Girls Clubs of America,  and Cristo Rey San Jose High School.  Our partnerships with these organizations include mentoring, program support, as well as workshops that cultivate critical business and STEM skills, corporate work-study programs, and internships. Today’s youth can support these efforts by getting involved with the local chapters of any one of these programs.

As a mom of school-aged children, how are you inspiring them to be ChangeMakers? Why are those teachings so important?

KB: As a mom of a teen and a tween, I try to focus on a few things: (1) exposing the kids to a range of perspectives; (2) fostering empathy for others; and (3) supporting areas of individual interest. The teen years are a critical time in brain development as teenagers have an increased capacity to appreciate various perspectives. By learning about different communities and various ways to solve problems, it not only helps increase awareness of the variety of challenges that exist within communities, but it also stimulates more creative thinking on how problems can be solved. When it comes to having empathy for others, we try to create learning experiences that foster a sense of empathy—such as through volunteering or random acts of kindness—and provide support for a specific area of interest that is important for each of them. However small or large the individual interest area may be, we try to support and encourage the kids to drive change that will create positive impact, and also experience how that feels.

How do we continue to give young people a platform to share their ideas, experiences and innovation, and how will those ideas impact the future?

KB: Organizations like 4‑H that celebrate and support youth in cultivating their ideas are critical. Today’s youth are full of ideas and creative solutions that can help drive positive changes that will enhance the lives of others who are a part of their community – large or small. To give young people a platform to share their ideas, it’s critical that we:

  • Create communities to help our youth feel that they are part of a bigger movement. People crave feeling a sense of belonging—being a part of a community—and young people especially need this today. If surrounded by other ChangeMakers who are trying to drive change within their communities, youth today may be inspired to take their own ideas and spring into action.
  • Offer mentorship to advocate and make connections to unleash creativity– our youth need to feel that there are people in their corner advocating for their ideas, cultivating those ideas to bring them to life, and helping remove roadblocks if and when needed along the way. So many of us have networks full of relationships that may assist a young leader in bringing their idea forward – it’s on all of us to make introductions to people who may help a young person move forward and bring their ideas to life. Talented youth who are full of ideas about how to drive positive change are everywhere. We must provide platforms and mentorship that nurture and unleash their creativity—our future depends on it.
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 

Young leaders in every industry are using their voices and stories to create a legacy of success and inspire the next generation. Kyle Bridgeforth—partner at the fifth generation Bridgeforth Farms—is lending his voice and passion to the advancement of diversity in agriculture.Here’s how the Alabama 4‑H and Morehouse College alumnus is helping his family’s farm thrive.Where did your 4‑H experience begin, and describe what that experience was like for you in your community?

Kyle Bridgeforth (KB): I went to a small school in Alabama where a 4‑H leader would visit every month or two to show us projects. Outside of the classroom, the 4‑H program would take us to tree farms and other outdoor activities. Although I grew up on a farm, I experienced agriculture with my classmates in fun ways.

Share how your experiences or the skills learned in 4‑H influenced or guided your career path.

KB: Growing up on a farm and being involved in agriculture was the guiding light for my entire career. I learned that being outdoors and being engaged in the community are passions for me. I wanted those experiences to be a part of my career and lifestyle. Participating in 4‑H gave me a project-based mentality. Before I start the process of growing a crop, I’m thinking about the end goal rather than just the goal at hand. With my 4‑H experience in mind, I start a project and see it through.

When beginning my career journey, I had multiple career opportunities and jobs before I settled into farming. In college, I interned at a bank. I later worked in Washington, D.C. for the United States Trade Representative, where I worked on the agricultural side of free trade agreements. Then, I found myself back in farming. I give 4‑H and the farm I grew up on credit for that.

Who were some of your influences or mentors growing up?

KB: I’m blessed and fortunate to be a fifth-generation farmer, so our family’s history was something we talked about every day. From the first generation to the fourth generation post-slavery, I heard stories about what farming was like for all of those generational experiences. I learned about our second-generation’s goals of going to college and growing a business during the Jim Crow era. Those stories influenced my perspective on farming and work life in general.

My family is my community, and they are great examples for me. In popular media, Martin Luther King is a huge influence for me. Although he’s someone I never met, I went to Morehouse College because of his legacy and how much he impacted me at a young age.

In a 2019 New York Times article, your uncle stated of your grandfather: “His goal, and his father’s goal, was to do everything they could do to keep the land and pass it on to the next generation better than they found it.” Talk about what that statement means to you as a fifth-generation farmer. 

KB: Well, I think it’s a great reminder that in all things, the first step is to survive and make it to the next year. It was a large and ambitious goal, and that mindset still sticks with me today. While it may not be as dire now as it was back then, we try to keep that mentality. Yes, it’s a business and a farm. But we always take an ethical, moral approach to the work that we do. When dealing with land, the decisions you make today will affect you for the next ten years. So we always have a long-term approach, and the decisions we make naturally flow into our lifestyles. I’m always looking ahead. And that’s a great example set by early founders of the farm.

How do you keep your son in mind? What are you doing today to prepare your son to fill your shoes and those before you? 

KB: Well, it seems that after I had a kid, he became a part of those long-term goals. We need to ensure that the farm and business are in good shape. As challenging as the farming industry is, it takes preparation, dedication and commitment to ensure that we’re running an efficient business that will be around by the time he’s my age. We also try to embrace as much growth and technology as possible. I hope his interest is in farming. I’m certainly not going to pressure him into it, especially if it’s not something that he innately wants to do. But I want to be there for him no matter what his goals are. I want there to be a business here that he feels like he can fit into. And we do that just by keeping a healthy, positive, stable, and family-oriented culture, while still preparing to teach him as much about the farm and the business as I can.

Describe some opportunities available for African American youth to help foster their passion for agriculture. How can those opportunities create life-changing experiences?

KB: Within farming, the Black community is largely underrepresented, as well as our culture in the industry. A young Black kid who’s never been on a farm or doesn’t know anyone that’s worked on a farm may not understand the benefits of agriculture. So, I think it starts with exposure. And that experience can change career or lifestyle goals. It can open up opportunities that they didn’t know existed. I believe it is important, especially for young Black kids, to understand that agriculture is a massive industry. It doesn’t always mean working in a field every day. Whether it’s digital marketing, finance, health science, or any other element within agriculture, you have to be exposed to the industry to find your fit. There are a lot of big companies and money in the agriculture space. I’d like to see more recruitment from larger companies, like USDA, Bayer, Dow DuPont. And even recruitment from historically Black colleges and universities.

Lastly, how do you hope your work and passion will inspire the next generation of Black and diverse farmers? 

KB: Hopefully, I can be a testament. I hope that others will relate to the story I tell and the experiences I’ve had. I want to be an example of how your passion for agriculture can help you find your place in the industry.

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