Value of 4-H Teton County brings youth to agWritten by Joy Ufford
Jackson – In spite of being the most expensive place to live in Wyoming and with 97 percent of its land under state and federal management, Teton County 4-H is still alive and well, with traditional agriculture and small animal projects, cooking, computer and sewing clubs – and the occasional wildlife club hunting the elusive wolverine.
Adaptations requested by 4-H members and leaders keep the program viable and interesting – such as this year’s Teton County Fair inclusion of Lowline and classic Hereford beef cattle competing in their statewide debut of 4-H market and breeding classes.
A closer look at Jackson's private land situation shows that 30 percent of its tiny sliver of the pie is permanently conserved and that “complete neighborhoods” are developed with zoning regulations that might prohibit livestock.
It’s not difficult to understand, then, why Teton County 4-Hers are more than a little creative when it comes to undertaking projects, forming clubs or working with the Jackson community.
Mary Martin, Teton County’s 30-year University of Wyoming (UW) Extension and 4-H coordinator, has seen the transformation of Jackson from a very small ranch town with a couple of ski hills and sidewalks that rolled up in the off-season to the bustling, busy and heavily visited destination it is today.
Due to her long stay, Martin can recite family histories of the county’s third and fourth generations and now has “kids of kids” participating in 4-H as a family activity.
“That’s been one of the joys of working with 4-H,” she says. “You get to be part of it, living vicariously in the lives of multiple generations.”
Member numbers remain fairly stable, with occasional ebbs and flows with many projects and interests fitted into the mix.
Utilizing the community
Martin wisely staked her claim early on to home ownership, which allows her to stay in Jackson Hole, but she knows how tough it is to find new, younger and “magnetic personalities” to work with Teton County 4-H as rents rise and dreams of home ownership fade with tourism and big business driving up the cost of living.
Extension’s two community gardens were filled up immediately with long waiting lists. Many people who might not experience real-life agriculture – but still value the “culture of agriculture,” as Martin calls it, seek lessons in canning, food preservation and home-raised chickens.
“We don’t see yards. There is no yard space any more when they build something. It’s too scarce,” she adds. “This county does make it really difficult for people to have livestock projects any bigger than chickens or rabbits. If they’re interested in lambs, pigs, goats and steers, I think it might be a lot more difficult than other counties. We had a 4-H family in the swine project for a couple of years, and they recently moved. They have two acres, but they are not allowed to have any livestock so the boys are not going to be able to do agriculture in the traditional sense.”
This is where new Teton County 4-H Educator Kristi Krinkee comes into the picture. She always looks for ways to facilitate any potential 4-H project. Members who want to be involved with livestock can exhibit posters at fair instead of raising, showing and selling an animal, although it isn’t the same, she admits.
“Our 4-H program does have quite a few projects that most probably consider ‘nontraditional,’” she explains. “Everyone thinks of 4-H as agricultural projects. We’ve got junior leadership and all those things that youth can still learn from in the 4-H program and be involved without having livestock.”
“It shares the same values,” Martin adds. “It’s about life skills and learning.”
“We have a lot of innovators and creativity here,” Martin says. “We started the rabbit program before anybody else had it. We did performing arts for years. We’ve had homing pigeons, and we had clogging. Another project we had no one else has – demolition derby. A club in Moran learned how to go buy a car, research rules, get a car ready and put it on auction for someone to buy when the demolition derby was just starting at the county fair.”
A huge reason Teton County 4-H stays successful is the willingness of their 4-H leaders.
“We discovered wolverines in Teton County,” Martin said, referring back to the 1990s.
“We had a 4-H wildlife club in Alta, and the kids said they saw wolverines.”
Leaders Dick Steiger and Andy Heffron and the excited members set out to “prove they saw wolverines – and they did.”
In the quest, the “little 4-H club in Alta” worked with Wyoming Game and Fish, Idaho Fish and Game, Targhee and Bridger-Teton National Forests and the National Park Service. The kids went out and captured wolverine “Andy,” fitting him with a radio collar and raising their own money to track him from Jackson to Cody. Then they captured Annie, a female, proving beyond a doubt “there are wolverines in Teton County.”
Krinkee, a Bozeman, Mont. native, knew she “wanted to go into Extension work or agricultural event management after graduation.
“It ended up bringing me here when I was offered this job,” Krinkee says.
Krinkee taps into the county’s volunteer base to work with 4-H members and leaders on new interests, one being the brand new miniature beef project joining regular taller cattle, goats and sheep, wildlife and habitat, sport fishing, quilting, horses and is considering a mountain bike club for which she thinks she has a leader.
More new endeavors
Both women are excited about premiering the state’s 4-H Lowline and miniature beef projects.
“We had six shown this year at fair,” Martin says. “That can be her first ‘hoorah.’ I think it sounds like it’s going to be a really great thing. Miniature cattle don’t need as much space and if people have a smaller acreage, it’s easier to graze a smaller beef.”
County fair parameters call for them to be not over 48 inches tall and not over 900 pounds, and the smaller breeds are more docile for young showmen.
“It’s a perfect fit in an area where land is so scarce,” Martin says.