Baltimore 4-H expo brings an urban vibe to a rural pillar

Not an oink or a moo could be heard as Baltimore's 4-H program gathered Saturday for its annual expo just blocks from Mondawmin Mall.

About the closest to a rural feel at the event at Baltimore City Community College was a booth selling products by Weber's Cider Mill Farm.

But the adults and children shaking it as Desiree George led a Zumba dance class outside the Life Sciences Building didn't seem to mind the urban vibe. To the tune of Fifth Harmony's "I'm Worth It," they worked it.

"It's a wonderful event. It's a community event," George said.

Best known as a pillar of rural American, 4-H is alive and well in Maryland's largest city. The event at BCCC, which was expected to draw about 150 people, was the organization's 17th annual citywide gathering.

"Most people think about 4-H, they think about farming, farm animals," said Albert Lewis, an educator with the University of Maryland Extension's Baltimore City 4-H. In reality, he said, it can be urban or rural — whatever the young people involved need.

Manami Brown, director of the program, said 4-H is the nation's largest youth organization. She said the group has been in Baltimore since the 1970s, having started in the public housing complexes as a sewing and nutrition club.

Since then it's been under the wing of the extension, a department of the UM School of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Brown said the program now includes some community gardens and farms in the city. But 4-H offers many programs far removed from agriculture.

There are entrepreneurship programs and public speaking instruction. A small robot skittered across the floor of one of the BCCC building as part of a STEM — science, technology, engineering, math — program.

"We really target under-served communities," said Brown. "We look at what young people are interested in and what they need."

A major theme of 4-H, Brown said, is "leadership development."

4-H has about 350 members in Baltimore. Brown said the program would not be possible without adult volunteers.

Kenneth Bland, a 17-year-old graduating senior at the Baltimore School for the Arts, said he was a member from when he was 8 until about 15. He returned to the expo as a volunteer.

Kenneth said he got a lot out of his 4-H experience, including a class in which he learned how to edit video. He said the group's Teen Corps program had given training on how to interview for jobs.

"I learned a lot and had fun," he said.

Cathy Foster, a 4-H volunteer for a year, said she's been working with Teen Corps members on leadership skills.

"They're really becoming more comfortable with public speaking," she said.

While there were no farm animals on display Saturday morning, Brown said there would be rabbits, sheep and goats for the kids to see by the end of the event.

"Our expo is like no other event in Baltimore City or around the state," she said.

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