Back in the day, long before Pike County Agent Donald Smith was born, typical 4-H activities included dairy cow judging, rural land judging and raising chickens.
Those activities are still available, but times have changed, and Smith, 27, is working hard to keep 4-H relevant to modern youth.
“We’ve got a lot of things we are offering that kids are coming to, that kids are excited about,” Smith said. “We have 7,494 kids that have been active in some form of 4-H programming within a year.”
Smith became Pike County 4-H agent in September 2015. This past April he was named county coordinator after Lamar Adams retired. Adams was county coordinator and agriculture agent.
Smith isn’t an ag agent, though he quite possibly could be if he applied. He has a B.S. degree in ag business from Alcorn State University and a master’s in educational leadership. He said he prefers working with youth in the 4-H capacity instead.
Pike County supervisors recently expressed concern about the lack of ag agent and the sharp decline in 4-H livestock program participants.
Smith expects Pike to get an ag agent in the future. And the county does have an agriculture educator, Margeria Smith, with the Alcorn Extension Service.
As for the decline in kids in livestock programs, that’s apparently a sign of the times.
“That did not just start when I got here. That’s something that’s been going on for years,” he said. “I would love a successful livestock program.”
As county coordinator, Smith handles the budget and oversees the office.
The Extension building at 1140 N. Clark Ave., Magnolia, has four employees: two with Alcorn and two with Mississippi State University. The office has an opening for community wellness planner also.
Smith is in charge of 15 youth development programs, some of which include more than one activity. Examples:
• STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics; includes robotics.
• Safety programs for ATVs, archery and firearms.
• Fitness, health and nutrition.
• Life skills and leadership: college and career readiness.
• Ag literacy: Activities include the annual FARMtastic event held in Amite County, farm skills, Junior Master Gardener program, forestry and livestock — even dairy judging, chicken raising and land judging.
“4-H started with an agricultural background and we have to keep that,” Smith said.
Smith takes 4-H kids to local, state and district events. At the county awards banquet in May, 159 attended, the largest attendance Smith has seen.
Field trips range from a McComb railroad tour to a Mississippi Gulf Coast aquaculture tour.
Pike County started an archery program last year with lead volunteer Johnny Scott.
“Right now we’re looking for a rifle-shooting sport volunteer,” Smith said. “In order to run these program successfully, we have to have trained volunteers.”
He’s keeping busy with all the activities.
“4-H attendance overall is up,” Smith said. “From the four years I have been here, I have seen a tremendous growth, a very tremendous growth.”
Kids naturally age out of the program, but more keep joining.
“I just got a text from a high school, ‘Hey, I got 40 4-H applications around here, more than 40,’ ” Smith said.
For more information on Extension Service programs, call 601-783-5321.