Volunteer 4-H Leader Says 4-H and Agriculture Grow Future Citizens

Volunteer 4-H Leader Says 4-H and Agriculture Grow Future Citizens

When Crystal Ward-Taylor stepped up to start and lead the Caldwell County 4-H Livestock Club four years ago, she had no clue what a snowball effect it would have. Crystal, a lender with Carolina Farm Credit in the Lenoir and Conover branches, was simply looking for a way to get her then-six-year-old daughter, Peyton, involved in caring for a show lamb.

Four years later, about 30 youth are involved in the club, and hundreds more at three other events that she and her husband, Neil, were instrumental in starting.

“It’s amazing,” she says. “If you offer and educate youth and parents on these programs and animal projects, most youth love to give them a try.”

Here, Crystal shares more about these life-changing efforts and how they instill in children important life skills that will serve them well, both now and in the future.

The Benefits of 4-H and Agricultural Projects

For all the 4-H’ers involved in the livestock club, they have a chance to show off their hard work at the 3T Livestock Show that Crystal and Neil started, the Caldwell Agricultural Fair, and multiple other county fairs and shows.  When children get a show animal, it’s up to them to halter break it, bathe it, keep its hide conditioned, feed it, teach it to walk, teach it to stand. The children also learn showmanship skills. The shows are training grounds that give them experience in not only showing their animal but in interacting with others and being supportive of the work and efforts of others.

“They learn responsibility, integrity, loyalty, work ethic, patience, and, most importantly, love of their animal,” says Crystal. “It opens their eyes to a wide array of careers in agriculture.”

Crystal is passionate about involving as many youth as possible in these life-changing projects. When the West Caldwell High School started a livestock team and needed animals, she took note. Each year, Carolina Farm Credit provides funding for various community service projects. Her idea to purchase four goats for the school was approved, and Crystal and several of her co-workers picked up and delivered the goats. “For me to work for an organization that will let us do that is amazing,” she shares. “Students there have already had their animals in two shows and the county fair.”

School Farm Day Leads to Caldwell Agriculture Expo

Crystal’s personal and family interests dovetail nicely with her professional interests and role at Carolina Farm Credit, which was enhanced further when her Farm Credit branch office was invited to the elementary school for a farm day. It was an opportunity to talk about careers in agriculture and the work of farmers. Crystal was bothered by the lack of agricultural literacy when it came to answers to a basic question such as: Where does your food come from? Answers like food stamps, grocery stores, or mom and dad, with very few saying farmers set off alarm bells.

She went home and talked with Neil, who shared her concern. “We decided we were going to try to do something about it for our community.”

Branching out from their livestock club, the two met with the superintendent of the Caldwell County Schools. The outcome was the establishment of the Caldwell Agriculture Expo. This year was the first year in what is expected to be an annual event. Every seventh grader in the county had a chance to attend the event to see a wide range of animals and learn from farmers and other professionals in the world of agriculture, such as soil and water representatives, large animal veterinarians, USDA, and college and university representatives.

“It was teaching them about farming and all the careers of farming but it was also teaching them where their food comes from and where and how a farm works and the different aspects of farming, instead of just a farmer on a tractor in a field. So many children, even adults, don’t realize everything that goes into it.”

The second day of the expo was open to the public.

Community Outreach of Caring

When a family in their community experienced a tragedy, Crystal and Neil organized the Whoville Christmas Classic, an opportunity for youth to show their animals and support a family in need. Instead of an entry fee, they were asked to bring a toy. Community support was so overwhelming that five families in need were showered with gifts. “So many times people forget how good the community is and how good kids can be and families can be,” she says.

“Anyone who knows Crystal knows she has two passions - agriculture and youth,” says April Dillon, area Extension agent in 4-H youth development. “She realizes the importance of teaching our younger generation about agriculture. If there is an opportunity to help youth and their parents learn more about agriculture, she is on top of it! The Caldwell County 4-H Livestock Club is one example of how she and her co-leader, Olivia Ford, help expose youth of all ages to animal science. Crystal has involved the 4-H members in that club not only in livestock projects, but community service and leadership also. Our kids love spending time with Crystal and her husband Neil and daughter Peyton because of their shared love of agriculture.”

Every day, Crystal is seeing the difference these opportunities give to children and youth in her county and beyond. The impact is huge.

“I think the biggest thing is that it teaches them how to be good citizens that work hard, that are trustworthy in life.”

In part 1 of this two-part series on youth and agriculture, Addie Dillon shares her perspective as a 4-H’er.

By Leah Chester-Davis