Small Orange BurstLarge Blue BurstLarge Yellow BurstLarge Green Burst
The Inventivity Pod
4H and Innovation in Agriculture
Loading
/

“Head, Heart, Hands, and Health,” otherwise known as 4-H, is all about developing young people, a mission that overlaps with the Cade Museum.  Host Richard Miles talks with Jennifer Sirangelo, President and CEO of the National 4-H Council about 4-H’s key role in promoting agricultural innovation in the U.S. for almost 120 years. Partnering with a national network of agricultural extension offices created by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, 4-H discovered that young people are early adopters of technology and great change agents in a pivotal part of the economy. Today 4-H works in many different areas, including STEM education and civics. 

 

TRANSCRIPT:

 

Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to Radio Cade and podcast from the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention in Gainesville, Florida, the museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We’ll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we’ll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work, and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Richard Miles:

Head, heart, hands, and health, otherwise known as 4H, is all about developing and mentoring, young people. Something we here at Radio Cade and the Cade Museum are also into, in a big way. This morning, I have the pleasure of talking to Jennifer Sirangelo, President and CEO of the National Forage Council, and also a good friend. Welcome to Radio. Cade, Jennifer. -Thank you, Richard. So, first of all, thank you for making the arduous journey to Northcentral Florida from Chevy Chase, Maryland. I know it took you several layers to get here and appreciate that. Not as many black-tie dinners here, but the boiled peanuts are much better.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Thanks for inviting me. I’m really happy to be here in Florida today.

Richard Miles:

So, Jennifer, we usually start out the show talking about the actual invention or the actual business. And in this case, instead of an invention, it’s actually an organization. So why don’t we start by you telling me and our audience about 4H and why don’t we start with the history? You know, where was it developed? Why and what was so rough timeframe?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Well, 4H started in 1902 and there’s actually a dispute between Iowa 4H and Ohio 4H about exactly where it started, whether it was with A.B. Graham, or with Jesse Field Shamba, but both of them were leaders in cooperative extension and agricultural education at the time and realized that when it comes to innovation and new technology, young people are typically more open to adapting and trying new things than some of the adults, at least in agriculture at the time that were ready for it. So, it was a important time in our country in 1902 and in the early 1900s, when we were really figuring out how are we going to feed our growing population? And so, having young people try all the new technology going on at the universities at the time was a really important way to get the innovation and the new techniques out there in use.

Richard Miles:

So this was everything I imagined from the internal combustion engine, right? I mean, you started going towards machines, but also new agricultural, new fertilizers, new seeding , that sort of stuff. Is that what we’re talking about?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Right. Right. So, just a little bit more of the history, so 4H is the youth development program of the Nations Cooperative Extension System, which is the outreach arm of the Nation’s land grant universities, which were started 1862. So here in Florida, at the University of Florida, the division called IFAS, which is the Institute of Food and Agriculture Science here, they run 4H in Florida. So, 4H is really the outreach arm of the Nation’s land grant universities for young people. So if you don’t know what land grant universities are like, I didn’t really know about those until I became involved so deeply with 4H, but in 1862, Abraham Lincoln and Congress realized we needed to have an educated population in our rural areas. So it was really an equity play to ensure that knowledge wasn’t just concentrated on the coasts, but there would be higher education advancements in agriculture and mechanical engineering happening throughout the country. So those land grant universities today, you would know them as Purdue, Texas, A&M, University of California, University of Florida, here in Florida and Cornell in New York. So those are all land grant universities. And as a part of their mandate for receiving that land grant, which was free land to build a university, they are required to have a program called cooperative extension, which takes that land grant universities research in very practical ways to the people and the way they do that for young people is through 4H. So, we started in 1902 as a part of that amazing cooperative extension system. It’s truly the envy of the world, the land grant universities and cooperative extension. They’re part of the reason that today our agricultural industry feeds not just the U.S. but people around the world.

Richard Miles:

So one of the things I love about doing this podcast, I feel like I get a private tutorial on all these different subjects. I mean, I’d heard of land grant universities, and I knew it had something to do with a grant of land, obviously, but I didn’t know the thinking behind that, this investment in knowledge, right ?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Practical problems . That’s the exciting part.

Richard Miles:

It really sort of foreshadowed, what the government did roughly a hundred years later when it started making university based research, more accessible, easier to patent to take to market. But that Lincoln was thinking about 1960s, really extraordinary.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

In the middle of the civil war, thinking this far ahead. And I look at it today as, as, as you know, in our country, we’re paying a lot of attention to what’s happening in rural America because we’re seeing some of the struggles and it’s amazing to have these institutions there to be a part of the solution, including 4H.

Richard Miles:

Right. So, it started in 1902. Tell us about the development through the 20th century. What did that look like? It stayed initially primarily rural and agricultural focused. How did it change over the course of say the next hundred years?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Sure. Well, you’re correct. We have always been, and 4H will always be focused on rural America. We are in many ways, the only game in town for millions of young people that live in rural towns and small communities, but over time with the increase in technology, in agriculture and our ability to produce more with less resources, less people, less inputs, fewer and fewer people needed to live in rural America in order to feed our populations and work in agriculture. So what that’s done for our country is free up all that talent for other innovation and technological advances. So when I think about why we have a Silicon Valley, I go back to the investments in agriculture and the ability to produce what we need, but being able to free up that talent for other technological, it’s exciting to see what’s happened in our country. So, 4H has followed that path, meaning where the people are and where the children are, is where 4H is going to be. So as our population has moved more into cities and suburbs, 4H has gone there too . So our programs continue to be in agriculture, you’ll see animals and plants and ag precision agriculture, environmental agriculture, but you’ll also see in 4H today, we have one of the largest robotics programs in the country. We have one of the largest computer science programs, and we’ve a huge amount of STEM and healthy living programs going on from the big Apple to the little Apple. I like to say from New York City, Manhattan to Manhattan, Kansas.

Richard Miles:

So that’s the perfect segue into my next question. I was going to ask, what does the geographic distribution look like at 4H’s? Where are your main concentrations in terms of numbers?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Sure . Well , we’re in every single county and parish in America in every territory. Anyone can find 4H for their young person or to be a volunteer. So, we are, because of that amazing distribution system of cooperative extension and the land grant universities that are in every state and county, 4H is there too. 50% of the young people in America live in nine States. So I don’t know if you knew that,

Richard Miles:

So let me guess, California, Texas, Florida,

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Florida, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina,

Richard Miles:

I’m not hearing in North Dakota in there,

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Not North Dakota, but we have a high concentration of the percentage of youth in North Dakota that are in 4H is very high. But anyway, so starting with that, but 4H is again everywhere, but the highest concentrations are going to be through the Midwest. And in the Southeast, Texas is our largest 4H program, but that’s really because of where you would see rural communities, vibrant need for young people to be engaged, from the cities to the rural areas.

Richard Miles:

In each of these places is an organizing entity, still the cooperative extension system, or are there other actors involved?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

No. That’s it. Yes. Cooperative extension runs the 4H program in every county. And so the cooperative extension is an amazing invention in its own and truly the envy of the world and Chevy Chase where I work in the Washington D. C. area, we have about four or five countries a year who bring delegations to learn about our advancement in agriculture. And a part of what they want to learn about is how we engaged young people in cooperative extension. Yeah .

Richard Miles:

So that the colleges and universities in each one of these states have a stake in making sure that this 4H system is alive and well.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Absolutely, and it’s a feeder system into their, into their colleges, their own, whether it’s their schools of engineering, agriculture, human sciences. And what’s amazing about it too, is this , especially for rural young people in today in 4H in rural areas are different than sometimes are depicted in the Norman Rockwell painting. They’re very different today, very diverse, full of first-generation 4H families. And so, 4H has an important role to play in cooperative extension.

Richard Miles:

A lot of challenges as well. Now, particularly in areas like Ohio and Iowa, like you’re talking about the disintegration, the manufacturing base. And I imagine some of that is affected agriculture as well.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

It has. And the important role of getting the young people in their parents comfortable with a university setting is something that cooperative extension of 4H do.

Richard Miles:

So I had no idea the breadth, the fact that it was everywhere. So if you ever want to turn this into a political party , it’s not too late, you can jump in the race, Jennifer, everyone else is. So you might, you might as well. Right? So,

Jennifer Sirangelo:

A lot of good important work to do for the children, which is where I’m from .

Richard Miles:

That’s what all the candidates say. Right? Yeah . So let’s talk about you. I always find it very interesting, particularly when we’re talking to any inventor, entrepreneur, somebody in this field, what their background is in terms of their experiences, their families , just what shaped them along the way. So why don’t we start out, where were you born, where you grew up, what was your childhood like?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Sure. I’m a Missouri native. I grew up in Kansas city, Missouri first and foremost, I’m a big sister. So I’m the eldest of four. And I grew up in a very modest home. My dad had two jobs. My mom raised all four of us kids. I was the first in my dad’s family to go to college. So I knew early on that if I wanted to have fewer struggles than my parents had, that I would have to work hard, use my brain and apply that in some way, that made a difference for other people.

Richard Miles:

And do you remember as a young girl or an adolescent, what were you the most interested in? I mean, did you love school? Were you a good student? Outdoors? Sports? Give us a picture of what ten-year-old Jennifer’s Sirangelo was like,

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Well, my mom was really into us having diverse skills. So I did things from trampoline lessons to bowling too . My mom was like a teacher. She is a teacher, so we had almost a school in our home. So I had a lot of different activities, but at its core, I’ll share with you that I was born a leader just to be honest, my mom and I’ve talked about this before. And she said I was leading my little siblings. I was less than two years old when my sister was born. And she was like, you were helping them move things along in the family. So I was always naturally drawn to leadership opportunities. Just some people are like that. And that’s certainly me.

Richard Miles:

Did you run for like student council president in high school? -Of course! Okay, I’m just guessing here.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

I was everything, I was in student body leadership, all of that. I was in student leadership, both in high school and college. And, actually that was a huge training ground for leadership. I mean, people don’t really think about it, but when I interview people today and when I see a student body president or even an officer, I know what it means to take the extra time. You’re already doing class, you’re already doing activities or sports. And then on top of that, lead is not easy.

Richard Miles:

You get your first glimpse of how organizations work, both the ideal models and the not so ideal models, right ?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

I learned a lifelong lesson being the secretary of the student body at William Jewel College, right outside Kansas City, Missouri, where I went to undergraduate. And I learned the lesson that she who takes the notes, has a lot of power.

Richard Miles:

I learned that too once, actually in an exam setting, say it was not a hypothetical, but it was a practical exercise. And we were supposed to decide something as a group. And I realized quite quickly if I had the pen and the notepad, that I would be the de facto leader of the meeting.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

That’s right. And I wanted to share just a little bit about some of the people that shaped me in that timeframe. You , you told me you might want to talk about that, but something that I think we don’t talk about quite enough today. And I think it’s based on the culture of the beta of everything. And don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, which I totally agree with that concept, but something that I’ve kind of feel a little bit that we’ve lost is the commitment to excellence. I was thinking through when I was thinking about doing this podcast with you and about the people who shaped me. And I had a , a leader in my church youth group who was excellent. I would call it in her personal life. Like just the way she organized her life, her finances. And I saw that excellence as a teenager. And that shaped me for how you organized your personal life, with excellence. I had a high school theater teacher who with a tiny little budget, Mr. Parsons, he just passed away a few weeks ago. And he took our tiny little theater program and we would have thought it was Broadway. He had posters for us, and the kinds of tickets we used were professional tickets. They weren’t just something you bought at the neighborhood shop, attention to detail. And the student body president I was telling you about when I was the secretary, when I was at William Jewel College, taught me the importance of excellence in the written word. So, how I took those minutes, the consistency of what they needed to look like, and that level of excellence continues with me today.

Richard Miles:

What did you major in at William Jewel?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

I majored in political science and communication.

Richard Miles:

Okay, All right . And what was your first job out of college?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

I ran a small family homeless shelter. -Really? We had less than a hundred thousand dollar budget. It’s called Hillcrest Ministries and it was a family shelter. So, in our community, -That’s not a typical first-year-out-of-college-job. I know! I think they must’ve been desperate because I knew nothing, but it was the best learning ground.

Richard Miles:

And this was where? In your hometown?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

In Liberty, Missouri, the Liberty Missouri, right outside of Kansas city. And it was the best learning ground. C ause I did everything. I wrote the newsletter. I did the QuickBooks. I had to file the taxes. I hired all the staff. I had to do all the fundraising. I had to work with the board. I had to do it all. And so I will tell you today being the CEO of the National 4H Council, it was a basis of the skills I learned. My office was in a garage, next to one of the houses that we had family apartments in.

Richard Miles:

Wow. That’s amazing. I mean, you just really jumped right into that organizational leadership role.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

I didn’t know what, I didn’t know. I will tell you that. -And so, how long did you do that? I did that for two or three years, but I had a Truman scholarship. I was really fortunate to have that. So I had to go and get my graduate degree done. I had a timeframe, so I worked first and then I did that at Syracuse University at the Maxwell School.

Richard Miles:

Okay. And then after that, where’d you go?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

And after that, I came back and I’ve worked in a number of places in the nonprofit sector in Kansas city. And I learned a lot, and I realized that what I wanted to do was to really make a difference in the world. I wanted to help other people. And I realized to do that, I would have to have resources. I never thought about it, but I realized I would need to have resources. So I’m a self-taught fundraiser. I went to classes, I learned it. There was no school or anything back then. And I , I remember the day I got the first grant that allowed us to open a second homeless shelter at Hillcrest. And that’s when I got bit by the bug of how I could help people by using my skills to generate resources that could be invested in them.

Richard Miles:

I assume you were recruited to go run 4H? You don’t just go online and say, hey, I’d like to be CEO 4H right? When did that call come? And how did it , how did it come?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

It came in late 2005, I was in New York working for Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which I had worked for in Kansas City. And then I worked for the national office and it was a dream job and a great organization for them. I was working with them and doing that fundraising and board development. And it was a time in the history of 4H when they were ready to really expand and grow and they needed experience,

Richard Miles:

In terms of numbers or just scope of activities or both?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Scope of activities there , we’re on the cusp of thinking about a major science initiative. And so that’s really what drew me to 4H. When I didn’t know the scope and scale today, we serve 6 million kids. As I mentioned in every county in America, we have extremely strong programs because of cooperative extension in the universities, like here in Florida, we have strong science programs and healthy living. And I was blown away by the quality of the 4H program at scale, there’s just, in my world there was nothing like it. So, I came because I was passionate about encouraging young people to pursue STEM careers and to make that more accessible through a huge distribution channel like 4H.

Richard Miles:

So you started in 2005, 4H’s of course headquartered in Chevy, Chase, Maryland. So let me get this straight. You went from small town, Missouri, smallish town, Missouri, straight to New York city, or where there? -I did. Stop really?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

One week before 9/11. I moved to New York city. Yeah.

Richard Miles:

You don’t believe in doing anything halfway Jennifer? -No! I’m not scared of much. So you’re there four years -Five years. Five years, and then you went to D. C.? So you didn’t even have time to acquire the New York snobbishness? -You’re right. New Yorkers tend to look down on D.C., you didn’t have time to acquire that right?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

I did acquire the fast pace, so I loved that. I felt so at home in New York, I felt more at home there than in Kansas City. And really, to be honest. So my family knew that when they saw me go, they were like, she’s not coming back. It was a great move for me, but I love D.C. What I love about it is the diversity. It’s a great place to have a nonprofit, like 4H we have such a diverse staff. And I just love that the different ideas that are brought because of all the people coming in to Washington from all over the country, and the world,

Richard Miles:

You’re on the road a lot. Right? We were talking about this earlier. I didn’t know that you had a lot of travel to the West coast, but really if you’re in every county in the U.S. you must have to hit a number of States every year?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

I do, yeah. It’s really fun that I get to travel and see so many different places. And most important to me is meeting the young people and hearing their voices and what they’re doing with their innovating at the local level. They never cease to amaze me. It’s one of the big aha’s in my job in 4H is that I find that myself included adults, we usually underestimate young people. They can contribute so much. And I see what they’re doing every day in 4H and I’m blown away.

Richard Miles:

It’s like, you perfectly anticipated my next question here. So if you had to go back and do any portion of your life over again, to go back to 21 year old, Jennifer, are there things you would do differently? What do you know now that you wish you’d known then? And would you make different choices? And then as a subset of that question, what kind of advice would you give to someone in roughly that age now? Someone maybe who’s about to graduate from college or has just graduated in terms of, they’re trying to decide what do I do with my life? I say the easy questions for last, but yeah ,

Jennifer Sirangelo:

That’s right. These are the hard ones. Well, I really wouldn’t do much differently at all. I, I remember feeling as I took big steps in my career, because at a young age, I had the confidence, I guess, because of my wonderful family and my mother in particular, that I could probably tackle anything. And I remember times when I took on new roles that were bigger, like when I moved from Kansas city to New York and took on a big role and opportunity, doubting myself a little and thinking, can I really do this? And I’m like, well, sure. I’m sure I can. And just never dwelling on your own insecurities. Like, don’t let that drive you at all. So for me, that’s the one thing that I would do over. I’d just make sure I didn’t focus on that at all. The advice I’d have for myself would be to be more patient with myself and to listen more, more patient in that I remember even being a junior in college and just all I wanted to be was graduated. I wanted to be moving. I wanted to be working in my career. -Always wanting to get the next. Next step, next step. And I would be more patient with that. And I would encourage aspiring achievers to think about that. That was the piece of advice I would give. And my other advice is to listen more. If you are a sharp, informed, interested person in the world with it’s curious, it’s really easy to want to share your ideas. Talk a lot, for me, it is, I’m an extrovert. I’m like 30 on the scale. And I always a hundred percent when I listen more, I gain a lot more as a lesson, I think about every day,

Richard Miles:

Something you said earlier, Jennifer, I usually don’t dispense my own advice, but I have to base on what you said. Sometimes I’m asked what I do differently, and I think I would have done what you did and that is starting your own organization or running your own organization. Even if you didn’t start it at the age of 21 and 22 just teaches you an enormous amount. I always worked for very large organizations, which is exciting in its own right. And I got to see and do a lot of things, but it wasn’t until Phoebe and I started the Cade Museum knew what it’s like. As you said, you do the website, you pay the bills, you talk to all the vendors, you do all the hiring. And if I could have gotten that experience when I was 22, it just would have been a different experience, but I appreciated it when I saw it. But not until much later .

Jennifer Sirangelo:

I agree with you at 23, it was an amazing opportunity to have, and I always talk about that with the staff on our team. I’m always really glad to have the team. We have. We have a lot of young college aged students that come and work for us. And I do some group mentoring with them. And my advice is always get somewhere small where you can learn at all. Right?

Richard Miles:

Yeah. Consider that the small, no name company first, before you go off to the Fortune 500 Company.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Totally. They don’t need your innovation and your creativity as much as a small place does.

Richard Miles:

Right. Right. And the small place will demand it because they need it.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

They’re desperate like where, like where I was, they must’ve really needed it. They let me do it.

Richard Miles:

So, Jennifer, what about looking forward? What are the main goals that you have for 4H say over the next five to ten years?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Well, we have a shared goal in cooperative extension four H and along with USDA, who is our federal partner to grow 4H from six to 10 million kids serving 6 million today to 10 million kids in the next 10 years, it’s a big jump. But because of our huge reach that we have, we feel really a moral obligation that more young people need what 4H provides. Parents are looking for an innovative opportunity where their kids can build life skills like leadership and resilience, overcoming obstacles, teamwork, how to run a meeting. In addition to the practical skills like science skills and healthy living skills and computer science, things like that.

Richard Miles:

Would that make you, or are you already the largest youth organization in the U.S.?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

We are the largest youth organization in the U.S. and around the world, we have 6 million young people here and another 1 million in another 70 countries around the world that are our partners.

Richard Miles:

That are formally affiliated with 4H, do they use the 4H logo and branding and all that?

Jennifer Sirangelo:

They use the name. Yeah . We have the ability for them to shape it, to meet their culture. So we have clovers with like a Palm tree. We have a Clover with a maple leaf and Canada, so everyone has their own flavor, but we are bound together by the Clover, the pledge, the head, heart, hands, and health that we say, and our values and positive youth development.

Richard Miles:

So your next goal is to develop 4H Paris and 4H Rome, and 4H London right? The strategic cities .

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Well, it’s already in a lot of places, and not those cities. That’s right. That’s right. But what we’re focused on and the reason that our board is really passionate and our leadership is really passionate about growing is not just to grow, but the why behind that is 4H over the decades has helped so many young people build their skills that have led to very successful careers and contribution to their community . So not just for themselves, but in a huge way for their communities. Our alumni research shows that our alumni like 20 points higher in their giving back in their communities and their volunteerism, our country needs good citizens today. And people that are going to be engaged in local communities, we also have helped young people get to college, like earn the money, whether it was selling a cow, selling their photography, they learn kind of their own little business through the agriculture projects and other projects they do in 4H it could be cooking, I’ve met chefs that have learned to cook in 4H and now own restaurants and own bakeries. So we are really focused on our role in economic opportunity and economic mobility, social mobility. Because when you think about what’s facing our country and the gap of opportunity between young people that are born into poverty, especially young people of color, and those that are not, that gap is one of the biggest issues facing us in the U.S. in the next two decades. And we know we have a role to play in helping close that economic opportunity gap. And we’re very passionate about that.

Richard Miles:

I think you mentioned citizenship as well. Good citizenship and civic virtues, which unfortunately is largely missing. I think from a lot of academic curriculum now. And so, I think it’s great. There’s an organization out there even thinking about that.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

It really is, and here in Florida, they have one of the most robust legislative programs in the country. It’s famous. It has great alumni like Adam Putnam here, who is one of your alumni from University of Florida and Florida 4H. And he’s an example of one of many, but we have all parties. We have over 50 members of Congress that are 4H alumni. And there’s a reason for that. It’s because of the civic engagement, part of 4H and the goal of giving back

Richard Miles:

How great and what a privilege I imagined to be part of a chain that started with Abraham Lincoln, right? And includes Jennifer Sirangelo.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

It’s true, I feel very honored. You’re right.

Richard Miles:

Jennifer, this has been a real pleasure talking to you this morning. I hope we can get you back on the show at some point and wish you the best in your visit to Florida and also the rest of your travels.

Jennifer Sirangelo:

Thank you so much, Richard. It’s been great to be with you.

Outro:

I’m Richard Miles. Radio Cade is produced by the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida. Richard Miles is the podcast host and Ellie Thom coordinates inventor interviews, podcasts are recorded at Heartwood, Soundstage and edited and mixed by Bob McPeak. The Radio Cade theme song was produced and performed by Tracy Collins and features violinist. Jacob Lawson.

 

share this article: