4-H Western Region Leaders Forum in danger of being shutdown in Alaska

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Hundreds of youth and adults are in Fairbanks as part of 4-H Western Region Leaders Forum. While the gathering represents a decade’s long tradition, some local leaders question how much longer it will exist in Alaska.

For some 40 years, 4-H clubs in the 13 western states have taken turns hosting the regional forum. Jan Hanscom is past president of the state volunteer organization. She says the current event has drawn more than 300 4-H leaders and agents to Fairbanks where they’ll take in at least 100 workshops on everything from “swine matchmaking” to constructing a rocket stove or a kuspuk. Hanscom says interest in 4-H today is growing as more people wonder how and where their food is grown.

“Why are we shipping food from millions of miles away to get it to Fairbanks?” Hanscom asked. “And oh by the way the barge broke down so now we don’t have food in the store.”

Hanscom says 4-H teaches kids about more than farming. It also focuses on science and the skills it takes to succeed today. Fifty-five teens and their chaperones spent a day at UAF touring the campus. She says the visit underscores the vital connection 4-H has with the University’s Co-op Extension Service, a connection at risk in the legislature’s current budget.

“If the University and the state does not provide the matching funds cooperative extension will go away this year,” said Hanscom. “And that would mean no more 4-H.”

Hanscom says it’s hard to forecast 4-H’s future in the state. More immediately the Regional Leaders Forum continues at the Westmark through Friday.