Farm life helped prepare Yates for leadership role
By Kimberly Benedict
Journal Staff Writer
As a mother and a member of the agricultural community, Tonya Yates believes everyone should know where their food originates. As the Montezuma County 4-H program coordinator, Yates is on a mission to provide a means for youths from all different backgrounds to experience the heritage of Montezuma County.
Kids need to know that their milk and their hamburger and their pork chops come from pork and beef, they dont come from the store, Yates said. We are an ag community and our kids need to understand that.
For just over a year, Yates has served as the county coordinator for the youth development organization, the stated mission of which is to empower young people to reach their full potential, according to the national 4-H website.
For more than a century, 4-H programs across the country have given youths the opportunity to experience hands-on learning through raising livestock and other projects. The 4-H ideal sprang from the desire to make public school education more connected to country life.
Yates realized the value of that connection while raising her son on a 40-acre dryland farm northwest of Cortez.
I actually have no formal education in agriculture, but I was raised on a little farm in Arriola, Yates said. I didnt do 4-H or anything, but when I got married, my husband had been a part of 4-H and we just knew thats where we wanted to be. We wanted to be in the country and we wanted to carry on that tradition with our son Brady.
Yates said her son was involved in 4-H well before the official entrance age of 8, and it was Bradys involvement in the program that spurred her own participation.
I got into the program and wanted to lead and help out, she said. A lot of my knowledge of agriculture and 4-H has been on-the-job training.
As program coordinator, Yates is responsible for overseeing the 10 4-H clubs in the county, comprising a members roll of nearly 300 youths.
My responsibility is to keep the program going and to enhance it in any way I can and to try and get as many people involved as possible, Yates said.
Though the programs roots are in agriculture, Yates said 4-H has something to offer everyone, whether they are a true blue farm kid or city dweller. Every project, be it a scarf or a steer, culminates through presentation at the county fair.
You can do everything from showing an alpaca to loom weaving and felting to cake decorating and decorating your duds, Yates said. You can even show a cat. The fair is the cherry on top. That is the pinnacle of all the kids work for throughout the year.
Beyond hands-on skills, Yates maintains 4-H teaches character traits that will serve youths well in their future.
I really believe it teaches manners and responsibility and I just want all the kids and families in our county to know what thats like to have that background, Yates said. It gives you a lot of confidence for your future.
The 4-H pledge demonstrates this dedication to well-rounded personal growth: I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.
My big thing is accountability, Yates said. If you join something you should finish it. I think the challenge is finishing. If it is easy for kids to quit, they are going to quit a job when it gets hard or a marriage when it gets hard. The program really teaches the kids to follow through.
Yates said working with the kids is the most rewarding part of her job and seeing them show an animal or complete an outfit is worth all the time spent in her office throughout the year.
I love the kids and being a positive role model for them and teaching them the 4-H program, which I believe is the best thing they can do, she said. Thats what my passion is.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at firstname.lastname@example.org.