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4-H clover What’s really behind all the teamwork

Five youth, representing the Mower County 4-H Lamb Jerky Team, at the Carlson School of Management.
The Mower County 4-H Lamb Jerky Team

Meet the Mower County 4-H Lamb Jerky Team.

You may not have heard about them, but these young people are going places. The team’s goal is to grow the consumer base for lamb meat. They discuss different ways to prepare it to overcome the stigma that often deters someone from trying lamb for the first time. They came up with the idea of jerky.

Over the past couple of years, these five Southern Minnesota youth, along with one adult coach, have used the 4-H Science of Agriculture Challenge as a catalyst for their big idea of lamb jerky. They worked with Hormel Foods scientists to create a statistically-sound testing program that collected feedback from over 400 panelists. The results were clear: tasters preferred lamb over beef jerky in a blind taste panel.

In year two of their project, the team built a marketing plan and developed a survey involving east and west coast 4-H'ers. They confirmed their findings that their results in the Midwest were similar in other parts of the country. They are now working on their marketing plan to bring their own lamb jerky to farmer's markets this spring.

The 4-H Science of Agriculture Challenge is a hands-on learning experience designed to inspire the next generation of agriculture leaders in Minnesota. Participating teams consist of 2-5 teenagers who work with volunteer coaches and mentors to create solutions for pressing issues their communities face. Under the Pillars of Agricultural Literacy, this team has rooted their learning in the relationship between agriculture and lifestyle. This covers the basis of food cost, nutrition, processing and healthy living.

“When I heard about this great opportunity, I knew that we would learn more about agriculture and solving an issue in it,” said Hannah, one of the five team members. She knew she had to check it out since it was new to her county.

Solutions that youth devise often lead to more competitions, travel and networking across the industry. For Hannah, Sarah, Ryan, Kaitlin and Megan, this includes creating and testing their lamb jerky in several markets, devising a marketing strategy and expanding their learning through research and collaboration. They have worked with meat scientists, agriculture and food science industry experts, and large companies such as Hormel and Jack Links. Not long ago they visited Washington, D.C. to present their work at the National Youth Agri-Science Summit.

“My favorite part about our travels is everything we have been able to see and do. From Jack Links marketing to the city of Washington, D.C., you are able to see how many options there are for careers in this world. You also truly understand how many things there are to learn more about in the agriculture industry, and how many great people there are to learn from.”

The Mower County 4-H Lamb Jerky Team presenting at the Carlson School of Management.
The team presents at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.

The teamwork behind the goal

The ups and downs of working with diverse opinions, criticism and personalities have provided this group of youth with ample opportunity to grow. Though the process is often challenging, Ryan is confident that the skills they are building will benefit him throughout his future.

“I’ve learned how to work with others when you might not see eye to eye. Everyone has different opinions and you have to be willing to respect that. Especially when trying to make decisions that not only affect you, but the entire team.”

In addition to becoming increasingly respectful and productive in their collaboration, these busy youth have also learned to manage the challenges of finding time to be in the same space together. Sarah knows just how valuable that time is. “We’re very involved teens so it is often hard for each one of us to be part of everything.”

Kaitlin understands that without the use of teamwork, they would never be able to accomplish their shared goals and that they have to appreciate what everyone on the team offers. “All of our team members bring different strengths to the table. This allows us to work well together even after two years of continuing the project.”

The unwritten accomplishments of teamwork

Jodi VanPelt has been coaching this team since the beginning. The biggest area of growth that she has observed with these five is how they communicate their ideas with others. “The first time they went around to area 4-H clubs and explained their project, they were pretty afraid,” said Jodi. “Now they speak confidently and proudly.”

These youth are also aware of how much their confidence has grown during their years together. “I was very shy before I joined this team,” said Megan. “I’ve learned about public speaking and how to reach out to the community.”

Hannah and her teammates agree on just how much this project has built the foundation for their future. “I think that the skills we are learning through this project will help us through college and beyond. Public speaking skills we’ll use often.”

According to Jodi, the team would never have been able to build the skills they have without the great people they have met along the way. “I am overwhelmed at the number of people who want to help today’s youth. We are so grateful for individuals who don’t hesitate to help 4-H’ers in their quest to better their communities.”

Make a gift to support 4-H Youth Development.

Catie Schmidt, University of Minnesota student and Wisconsin 4-H alum

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