Monroe Payne Photography | 55 years of 4-H

55 years of 4-H

April 16, 2015

Although this is not strictly about photography, it will give you a bit of an insight to the work and mindset I do. Enjoy.

4-H for the last 55 years.

Yes, I’ve been involved in 4-H for 55 years as of this summer. That makes me sound really old, but I think it is, in part, what has kept me young!

In 1960 I had my first taste of 4-H as an 8 year old camper at Hidden Valley 4-H Camp in Watkins Glen, NY. My brother and 2 sisters were counselors there and I had visited many times, so it was perfectly natural to just walk in like I owned the place. Memories of the exact events of the week are blurry, except to remember the campfires and all of those silly songs we learned – some of which are still sung and others which have drifted into history except when they nudge at me at the most inappropriate times…

Camp is where many firsts happen, my first attempt at starting a camp fire, whittling, my first crush, my first broken heart and more than a few friendships which have lasted forever.

As a CIT, Counselor in Training, I met several people who have become best friends – and one who eventually became my wife; my girlfriend of 40 years.

Although 4-H Camp is where it all started, my serious involvement with 4-H began as a parent and an employer.

The 4-H Youth Fair was the centerpiece of our summers for all the years of our 5 children’s growing up. We raised dairy goats, and the children spent the spring and into the summer raising them, grooming, clipping, learning their many body parts and training them to walk properly in front of the judges. Although it was a lot of work, it has made the children, now in their 30’s, better people. The single greatest compliment I heard about them was “Your kids sure know how to work!”

That’s true. They didn’t have a choice!

Youth fair successes encouraged us to extend our goat showing to the New York State Fair where we did well, but again it was the mentorships and friendships we made showing there that endure. The dedication and friendship of the other exhibitors affected our children greatly, and encouraged them to do even better.

The goat barn at State Fair is a series of pens with concrete walks for the fairgoers to view the meticulously cared for (and very friendly) goats. Around the perimeter of the building is a yellow line about 4’ from the wall. Within that 4’ was where the exhibitors kept all their personal belongings, bedding, tack, food and camping supplies.

Our corner was known as “The Payne Encampment”, and Janet would spend the weeks leading up to State Fair cooking and freezing, and planning all the meals for the fair for preparation in the crock pot or the little microwave. We would start the crock pot in the morning, and by about 5PM, the teenagers would start raising their noses.. “I wonder what Mrs. Payne is cooking tonight…” Janet is not very good at cooking small quantities, so if it was a choice between a PB&J or Mrs. Payne’s Spaghetti, well, you know the answer.

I think that State Fair was the single place that the whole family was closest; everyone working for a common goal, the elusive “Best in Show” rosette and trophy.

This is the magic of 4-H, for it is not all about ribbons and projects and trophys. It is far more about family, learning from positive examples, and then emerging as a positive example to others.

Most, but not all of our 4-H experience is involved with our animals. As an employer, I consciously seek out candidates who did 4-H Animal science projects.


Because owning and showing an animal is a massive commitment.

4-Hers know how to accept and see through a commitment. It is very literally a life and death commitment, for the animal’s lives are completely in their hands. They know how to keep records showing the progress of their project, they know how to gracefully accept praise, and this is the most important trait – they know how to take critique, learn from it and improve from the critique.

It was about the time my children aged out of 4-H that my photography business began to take off, and I was asked to evaluate the 4-H photography projects at the youth fair. I was expecting to look at a bunch of snapshots and declare them worthy or not – but I was surprised again by the attention to detail and the thought behind many of the images, far in advance of my wildest expectations.

The other thing I noticed was the thirst for knowledge that these kids have, and their willingness to accept my critique without taking it personally.

Another major benefit was to me personally. I found that in describing the good points and bad points of any image, it caused me to re-evaluate my own work, and actually improved my personal and commercial photography. It went even further – I enjoyed evaluating the images so much that I began to offer instruction to 4-H clubs around the state specializing in composition and the presentation for competition.

So what is the purpose of telling you all this?

It is that 4-H is far more than goat shows and projects; far more than a social group; far more than clubs and chicken barbeques and fundraising.

4-H is training for a successful life.

We live in a society that is, sadly, becoming progressively more entitlement-minded, where accomplishments don’t matter and every want or need has to be filled immediately.  Where if an employee is held to account they have a temper tantrum instead of learning; where self-esteem is somehow a given and not earned and where personal responsibility is not either respected or taught – if something goes wrong, blame has to be assessed with no thought to correcting the situation, and on, and on….

4-H is a magnificent counterpoint to the sad metamorphosis that is sickening the rest of society.

4-H kids, 4-H FAMILIES are training our future employees and our future leaders in the best way possible by encouraging responsibility, initiative and excellence, by teaching respect (Yes, and manners too), and showing our next generation that they CAN overcome obstacles by persistence and when they’re stuck, asking politely for assistance

So now that my children are grown and taking their place in the world, I look back on the effect 4-H has had on my family’s life - and my life, and am humbled and proud to have been part of it all. And the adventure continues…

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