September 20, 2023

Mark Cathcart, Union County 4-H Agent

Being a 4-H agent is the most rewarding, frustrating, difficult, and easiest job I have ever had.  4-H agents do everything at once while everyone thinks you are doing nothing, or just playing with kids. 

As a blacksmith, I have a desire to pass the love of this trade on to a younger generation. The blacksmithing “tools of the trade” are always two things, heavy and expensive.  With that in mind, I piloted a blacksmithing program with a homeschool group with “makeshift” equipment and some of my own personal tools to see what would happen. The enthusiasm was overwhelming!  At this point I realized that with a dedicated set of equipment their learning curve would steepen, and the love of this trade would deepen. After receiving the Extension Innovation Award, I was able to leverage the City of Union to give some more money to buy the proper equipment.  This equipment has allowed me to accelerate the home school, club, and day camp students’ knowledge and technique.  We even gave the program a name, “Forged In 4-H”.

“Forged In 4-H” is designed to teach metallurgy and blacksmithing skills, as well as provide school enrichment through demonstrations, in a safe manner, with the use of chemistry, geometry, physics, math, and hands on projects. This program and equipment are being used to teach 4-H youth of all ages and any student through school enrichment, including homeschool groups. The equipment is housed in Union County, where the principal teaching location is. The equipment is kept mobile so that it can be moved to any county in the state to conduct short term projects, demonstrations, day camps, and school enrichment.

The use of hands-on learning techniques allows students to experience and learn the trade of blacksmithing. With a resurgence of interest in blacksmithing, this is a need that begs to be met. This program is unique for several reasons. First, we are leading the way in offering blacksmithing in 4-H in the southeast. Only a few counties in the nation offer a 4-H program similar to this one. This may be due to lack of agents and volunteers who do not have the knowledge or funding. The interest in just my county has been overwhelming. Second, blacksmithing is an ancient art, but we will be teaching it in a new, modern, and exciting way. We will be teaching the life skills of blacksmithing to the younger generation, instilling an appreciation for an ancient art form, and preserving skills that we do not need to lose as a society. Third, we will be providing hands-on knowledge and skills in a field that may become a career for some 4-H’ers. Forging, welding, metal working, and fabricating are not going away any time soon. In a world filled with technology, all too often we do not teach youth how to make something real and tangible. With young people spending an exorbitant amount of time on computers and cell phones, real world skills fall to the wayside. Putting simple math and geometry skills to work, seeing chemistry and physics in action, and developing simple hand eye coordination can easily be overlooked.

As youth development agents, it is our job to help young people choose a life path. If we can help these 4-H’ers become productive citizens, then we have done our job.

September, 2023


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