4-Hers from around the world share ideas and concerns

Youth from around the world are taking over Ottawa as the nation’s capital hosts the international 4-H Global Summit.

Five hundred young delegates from 70 countries will spend a week in the city, where they will chat about sustainable agriculture, the environment, healthy eating, science, technology, community engagement and communications.

Cooking demonstrations, evening activities at the Canadian History Museum and the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum are also planned, alongside a variety of workshops and brainstorming sessions.

It’s the first time 4-H Canada will host the international meeting, which runs July 11-14 and is tied into the ongoing Canada 150 celebrations.

A leadership program largely based in rural communities, 4-H has been part of the Canadian fabric for more than 100 years.

The first club in Canada was started by Edgar Ward Jones in Roland, Man., in 1913. Jones, a farmer himself, wanted a way to teach people about agriculture in a way that was practical and hands-on.

He started the Boys and Girls Club, a program largely considered to be the launch point of the 4-H Canada that we know today.

Jones, who is considered one of 4-H’s founding fathers, was inducted into the Canadian Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2015.

Today, more than 24,000 Canadian young people are members in nearly 2,000 clubs across the country. 4-H Canada estimates there are more than 350,000 4-H alumni in Canada.

Internationally, the organization has more than seven million members spread across 70 countries — with new members and clubs continuing to pop up.

Famous American alumni include Hollywood actress Julia Roberts, country super stars Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

In the United States, clubs are even starting to crop up in urban centres, while here in Ottawa some city children are joining clubs in nearby rural areas. The organization is a staple at events of all sizes, from the tiny local fairs to the likes of the Royal Winter Fair and the Calgary Stampede.

It’s a chance to bridge the growing gap between the farm and people’s plates, while exposing children and youth of all ages to agriculture’s many wonders — and opportunities.

4-H has even found a way to penetrate the Ottawa bubble.

Macgregor “Mac’’ Tebbutt, a 4-H member from British Columbia, was named to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s prestigious Youth Advisory Council, a 26-member board designed to advise Trudeau and bring a youth perspective to federal issues. Tebbutt has been part of the 4-H organization for more than a decade and has served as a 4-H B.C. Youth Ambassador.

The board held its inaugural meeting in Ottawa last September, when the group met with policy leaders, the federal cabinet, First Nations leaders and other senior officials.

Canada’s prime minister, it’s worth noting, seems to have a bit of a soft spot for 4-H.

A few months back, 4-H members from across Canada were in Ottawa for their annual day on the hill, complete with a reception with MPs.

The group even got to take in question period, which featured its typical banter and semi-organized chaos.

After QP, the 4-H members made their way down to the Hall of Honour, the main hallway in Centre Block that separates the Senate from the House of Commons. (It’s also a main route for reporters who are headed to Parliament’s main foyer for post-QP scrums.)

Somehow — be it organized or spontaneous — the group crossed paths with Trudeau. The prime minister spent the next five to 10 minutes chatting with those in attendance.

It was quite a sight to behold, really, this gang of teenagers dressed in their finest, a few still rocking their cowboy boots, chatting with the prime minister in the middle of Centre Block about life in Ottawa and life back home.

Who knows, perhaps those two worlds will come together again at this week’s summit.

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