In this episode of North American Ag Spotlight, Chrissy Wozniak interviews Jill Bramble, the President and CEO of the National 4-H Council. Jill shares her background as a fourth-generation 4-H member and discusses the significant impact 4-H has had on her life and countless others.
Jill explains how 4-H has evolved over its 120-year history and how it continues to adapt to the needs of Gen Z, emphasizing the importance of local customization while providing a national framework.
The conversation highlights several success stories, including a young 4-H member named Eli who combined his love for agriculture with robotics and computer science, illustrating the potential of young people to drive innovation and positive change in their communities.
Jill also touches on her experience in fundraising and partnerships, showcasing how collaboration with organizations and corporations has expanded 4-H programs and opportunities.
The podcast concludes with a discussion about Jill's perspective as a mother of Gen Z children and the unique challenges and opportunities they face, emphasizing the importance of providing support and guidance for this generation.
Jill Bramble is President and Chief Executive Officer at National 4-H Council, the nonprofit partner to Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program. An experienced nonprofit leader, she has dedicated more than 18 years of service to National 4-H Council, starting as a grant writer and rising through the ranks to join the executive leadership team in 2013.
A fourth generation 4-H’er from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Jill knows firsthand the life-changing impact of 4-H programs and volunteers. A champion of young people and their ability to drive change, she is motivated every single day to pay it forward and ensure these same opportunities are available to all youth.
Jill has cultivated teams and organizations to grow the impact of their missions through sustainable, social impact investments. Prior to stepping into her role as CEO, she served as Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer focusing on the enterprise alignment of people, marketing, partnerships, and processes to drive revenue and ensure all young people have the opportunity to access 4‑H’s positive youth development programs.
As Council’s Chief Development Officer, she led a team of development professionals and oversaw a portfolio of corporate and foundation partnerships that raised more than $35 million annually to grow and support Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program.
Before joining National 4-H Council, Jill was a senior consultant for Just Cause Consulting where she led strategic planning and grant-writing for nonprofit organizations on the East Coast. Prior to her consulting work, Jill was the Income Development Director for the Mid-Atlantic Division of the American Cancer Society where she led fundraising and local board development in Maryland and Delaware.
4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, grows confident young people who are empowered for life today and prepared for career tomorrow. 4-H programs empower nearly six million young people across the U.S. through experiences that develop critical life skills. 4-H is the youth development program of our nation’s Cooperative Extension System and USDA and serves every county and parish in the U.S. through a network of 110 public universities and more than 3000 local Extension offices. Globally, 4-H collaborates with independent programs to empower one million youth in 50 countries. The research-backed 4-H experience grows young people who are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs.
Discover the inspiring stories and insights about the impact of 4-H and Gen Z's role in shaping the future of agriculture in this engaging episode.
Learn more about 4H at https://4-h.org/
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Don't just thank a farmer, pray for one too!
Chrissy Wozniak: [00:00:00] Hi. Welcome to North American Ag Spotlight. I'm Chrissy Wozniak. My guest today is a staunch advocate of the potential within each young person and their ability to tackle the challenges facing our world today. She's a fourth generation 4H, and is now president and c e o at the National four H Council.
Today we're going to discuss a topic that she's going to be speaking on at the Women in Agribusiness Summit in Nashville at the end of the month. To Gen Z. Ultimately, gen Z's impact on the on agriculture and insights from their perspective from Chubby Chase, Maryland, which I didn't even know existed until today.
I would like to welcome Jill Bramble. Welcome, Jill, and thank you so much for joining me today. You Chrisy. It's such a pleasure to be here with you today and talking about such an important topic for the young people of our nation, and certainly for the the future. Yes. So can you start off by telling me about yourself [00:01:00] and your family's four H Legacy?
Jill Bramble: Sure, I'd be glad to. So, as you said, I'm a fourth generation four hr. I grew up on the eastern shore of Maryland, which is a very rural community. My family has a dairy farm that was started by my grandfather and continues today. My cousin and his wife who've completely renovated it, modernized it, put in robotic milkers and have the highest sustainability practices, and really have transformed what has been a legacy business, dairy business into one that is.
Is modern and meeting a lot of high standards for today. So I'm very proud of my rural background. When I grew up in my community, four H was the only youth serving organization and I feel so blessed. To have been impacted by many volunteers and mentors and every single day [00:02:00] I'm gonna work to pay that impact back and ensure that all kids have the same opportunity that I did growing up in Maryland.
Oh, that's awesome. I love that. And as a fourth generation four H are, what are some of the most significant life-changing experiences you've had through through the four H program? Yeah, so as I think back, I did a variety of projects in four H from the Dairy project, public speaking to cooking, sewing community service projects, and.
Each of those experiences really allowed me to find my spark to try new things and see if I was interested and good at something or if I was not so interested. So I absolutely loved all of the Ag projects. I was a sewing failure. So you learn these things and you have the opportunity to follow your passions and, and what you [00:03:00] wanna pursue.
And as I look back on those experiences, in addition to it being about finding your spark, it also is an opportunity to practice leadership and do that in real time. So in four H, we believe that young people are leaders today. Not at some point into the future. And I think that's a really unique difference that we value young people today.
We don't feel that they need to go through school, go through college in order to then provide a value to our society. So in four H in my projects, and this still happens today, not only are you learning new skills, You are then expected to use those skills to make a difference in your community. And I think that's really important too.
So it's not just about me and what I can acquire through four H, but it's how I use those skills to make my [00:04:00] community a better place. So if I'm learning about. Foods and nutrition and where our food is grown. I then can look at my community and think about how do I apply that in this community? Are there food deserts?
Are there opportunities to connect people to where their food comes from? How can I take a leadership role? And this can be at 8, 10, 12 years old. In sharing that knowledge with my community. And I think that's so important today just as it was when I was in four H. The project is a means to developing leadership and developing a commitment to your community and to making the world a better place.
Chrissy Wozniak: Yeah, those are some excellent points. And, and I think at this time in, in history, probably those. Are more important now than ever. Right. Especially this connection with the, with the consumer. [00:05:00] I think those are excellent points and starting people young and understanding that difference, that there is a big divide there and trying to close that gap is very honorable.
That's right. And you
Jill Bramble: know, so much of what we're seeing today after young people have navigated the last three or four really tumultuous years Young people are, are really yearning for a sense of purpose. They want hope for the future. And I'm really excited by research that we've gotten back about the four H program that not only shows that four H are more likely to pursue STEM careers, they're more likely to avoid risky behaviors and engage with their community, but they also have an extraordinary high sense of purpose.
And hope for the future. And they are deeply connected to their community. So when you think about reports that have come out on loneliness or mental health I, [00:06:00] I feel a huge responsibility to the young people in this country that we can provide a pathway. Where the future is really bright. Yeah. Engaging with four H and we're in every single county or parish in this country.
It's a wonderful network of cooperative extension and it is providing young people a pathway to thriving. Yeah. I love it. So tell me about your role at National four H Council. Happy to. So I am the President and c e O of National four H Council and National four H Council was actually formed by the Cooperative Extension System decades ago to really be the nonprofit partner to the vast network of cooperative extension that is delivered through our nation's land grant universities.
So at National four H Council, we have several unique Tell the [00:07:00] of four H and the four H brand and lift up the voices of young people across this country and the amazing work that they're doing. We provide the national level fundraising and partnerships with companies like Nationwide and Microsoft that are thinking about what do young people need, how can they support.
Growth of four H across this country. And then we provide a convening role. So four H is delivered from state to state independent state programs. And at the national level, we convene. That innovation and scale national priorities. And we've done that through afterschool programming. We've done that through science and a very large initiative around stem, computer science, digital literacy, and we're thinking about that into the future around workforce development.
So it is a unique [00:08:00] role within a vast four H network where we work very closely with Cooperative Extension and U S D A. Wow. Wow. Yeah. There, there's a lot involved, isn't there? There is. Yeah, there is. It's a network That truly is amazing. You know, when you think about the resource that the four H program is for this country it has a connection into our US Department of Agriculture.
It is delivered by our nation's land grant universities. And it is located in every single county in this country with the priority of ensuring that young people find their spark and they have a pathway to a really strong future. That's wonderful. And how has four H evolved over the years? What changes have been made to evolve to the needs of Gen Z?
It's a great question and one that is on our minds and, and we are [00:09:00] really focused too. So if you think about four H, it's a 120 year old organization. And at the origin of four H it was really created to be about technology transfer. So at the time Researchers were developing new technologies in agriculture.
This is the early 19 hundreds when they're working on pre germinated corn seed, and the university researchers could not get the adult farmers to adopt the new technology. They were afraid of the change. The innovation was a little too out there, and they were nervous about it. But young people did use it and they were interested in the technology.
And so through four H Clubs, four Hs began utilizing new technology and through their projects began to plant that pre [00:10:00] germinated corn seed just in this example. And they ended up growing 10 times what the adult farmers were growing in their community. Wow.
Of maybe we shouldn't be so skeptical. We could try it, we could learn about it. And young people were part of leading that technology transfer. So at the time, agriculture, of course, was the primary industry. But if we fast forward to today, that essence of young people taking a leadership role in their community.
Still exists today. So we have a program called Tech Change Makers, where young people are teaching digital literacy to adults in their community so that they can understand how to utilize the internet in a safe way. How to apply for a job online, how to shop, and make [00:11:00] sure you're not. Susceptible to dangerous sites are being hacked online.
Young people are teaching adults this, so you still see today and certainly that sparks an interest in a Gen Z four H who is a digital native and is learning once to learn about coding and computer science and ai. So it really is a win-win. It is allowing young people to explore new technologies. But then also expecting of them to apply that to their community and kind of tackling the big issues that our community faces.
Chrissy Wozniak: Amazing. That is remarkable. And how does Four H collaborate with, as you said, the Cooperative Extension system and U S D A to serve young people? So is how is how is it broken out and how does information flow out? In a more technical way, I guess. Mm-hmm. Great.
Jill Bramble: Great question. So our [00:12:00] nation's land-grant universities deliver the four H program, and that happens in, in every state and in every county.
And what is so wonderful about four H is it is very grassroots. So the four H program in Florida may look. Different than the four H program in New York. And a lot of that is based on the expertise of the university, the expertise of those cooperative extension leaders and four H educators at the local level.
And they are responding to very local needs. So, Of four H in Manhattan, New York may look very different than the needs of four H or in Manhattan, Kansas. Right. And the beauty of the four H program is it can respond locally, very different than a program that the agenda is developed at the national level and it is pushed [00:13:00] down in a very unified way down to the county level.
We do have a number of national initiatives that that National four H Council and Extension have worked together to scale for all 50 states, but that it still allows a way to plug in what is relevant for your community. So I mentioned. STEM initiative that we launched a number of years ago, and it was to inspire more young people to pursue STEM related careers.
And But we did not force it, and we did not say this is the only stem. What we did was we created a model where we could develop new curriculum, we could develop training alongside of extension, and then locally. If the STEM that you wanted to pursue was AG technology or food science, or robotics or [00:14:00] ai, you know, any of the range, there was the freedom to do that.
So I think both the grassroots and also kind of the, the national infrastructure and framework allows for a sustainable program that can really spark that individual interest of young people.
Great. And what it
Chrissy Wozniak: really makes me think of I work with a lot of manufacturers and if you think about it, the most successful companies really have the same framework and.
And these manufacturers should probably look to four H on how to have that main message and then bring it out to those distributors in the communities to serve what is needed in those communities. So that's, that's interesting. Maybe you should do some four H training in, in business. Right. Oh my goodness.
Jill Bramble: Well, we're, we're trying to think about how do we provide the talent pipeline for those businesses? And I know that is on the minds too, right? As [00:15:00] vo-tech has kind of been reduced in the school system, how can we encourage young people, it's not just about pursuing one pathway. To college, right? We wanna make sure that young people see all of the pathways that are possible, whether it's directly into a career and through credentialing and some trade-based careers, or if it's through a two year college or a four year college.
We want young people to know there are many pathways that they can pursue and our country needs, right? To have a, to have an experienced talent pipeline to draw from.
Chrissy Wozniak: I love that. And there are I did a little bit of research beforehand. There are nearly 6 million young people across the US involved.
What continues to draw these kids year after year? It's, it's amazing to me that there's that many kids involved.
Jill Bramble: I know Chrissy, we are the largest youth development [00:16:00] organization in this country. Wow. And many people don't know that, but I think part of that is the infrastructure. So being in every county and being connected to that land-grant university system is such an asset for young people that is down to their county level.
So I think the accessibility. Is really important. We are thinking through how do we couple the accessibility of the in-person program at the local area with an e-learning platform that we are developing at National four H Council called Clover that can a compliment to that. So regardless of where you live, you can access in person.
Or a hybrid version that compliments that in-person, and that is the collection of all of cooperative extensions, high quality content and experiences that we have put into a [00:17:00] format that's relevant for Gen Z.
Chrissy Wozniak: Do you have any examples of success stories or inspiring moments from your time? At the National four H Council?
Jill Bramble: Oh, I do. The first one that comes to mind for me is a four H program in West Virginia and a young four h r named Eli, who had grown up in four H and he did a variety of ag projects. And he was on a hog farm and so that was his primary project that he showed swine at the local fair. And when asked about what he wanted to do in the future, his, his comment was, You know, I, I, I probably will just stay here and work on the farm and that is fantastic.
We need more young people who wanna stay in rural America and support agriculture. But what he was really interested in was. Robotics [00:18:00] and computer science. And his comment was, you know, I, I love that, but I need to stay here. And what he did not realize was that he could combine the two and bring that technology to his farm.
So through computer science, Programs that we scaled nationally, he was able to begin to do coding and do computer science projects. And in his work kind of thinking about how do I tackle issues here on the farmer in my community, he began to think about how to use computer science in his local community.
And it just really took off and, and lit that spark for Eli. And he began to train others in his community. He began to make kind of coding less seem less of a barrier to people. And now he still wants to [00:19:00] stay in his rural community, but he wants to infuse that technology and work in computer science.
Agriculture and that is such a need. So anytime we can spark that kind of interest and help strengthen our rural communities and keep our talent working in agriculture, I think that's a huge success.
Chrissy Wozniak: Definitely. Oh, that's, that's very inspiring. And you've had a significant role in fundraising and partnerships throughout your career, not just here at four H, but in the past too.
So can you share some insights on how you've cultivated support for four H programs?
Jill Bramble: Yeah, I'd love to. So in my mind, Chrisy fundraising allows more young people to be reached. The more resources we can bring into the four H program, the more young people have access to our mission. So that's what I love about development work and what has been most rewarding is working [00:20:00] with.
Investors, whether it's an individual philanthropist or it's a, a, a corporation, and really thinking about what is, what is their interest? What change are they trying to make, or what need do they have? That four H might be able to help with. And so we've done that over the years, whether it is, you know, needing more young people to pursue stem.
So there's a diverse talent pipeline. I think of companies like Lockheed Martin who really need US scientists. And engineers to be able to fill their talent pipeline. And so we worked with Lockheed to build out robotics programs that also engaged their employees. So we, they were mentors, but we were inspiring young people to pursue engineering.
So it's really looking for that win-win partnership. And we've done that in many [00:21:00] ways. Whether it's with companies that are focused to rural America, or companies that want to inspire and make sure that kids in urban America have a pathway to success. The beauty is that we're located everywhere and that we can align with those interests.
Chrissy Wozniak: Oh yeah. That, that is amazing. And as a mom, just chase changing gears a little bit. As a mom, you have two gen Zers. How do you see the world differently than from how you were raised and in their shoes?
Jill Bramble: Yeah, it's, it's a great question. So it is very different for them. So as I think of my two Gen Z children you know, they're navigating a world for them that feels uncertain.
And there's political polarization, there's concerns around social justice. The economy feels uncertain to them. You know, they've never been through a [00:22:00] period where the economy is down and you know, you have hope it's gonna come back. They haven't had that. So as they are entering their careers, They're not sure how they will have the resources to buy a home at some point.
They're not sure necessarily how to navigate such a polarizing world. So I think their, their challenges are different. At the core, you know, I'm blessed that they were both engaged in four H and they have a resilience that they have gained through having high quality mentors. Yeah. That will carry them forward, but it still doesn't.
Totally eliminate the uncertainties that they feel. At the same time not just my kids, but Gen Z more broadly has this incredible sense of purpose. They really do want to have an impact on this world. They're not always sure how to do it, but they have a [00:23:00] sense of purpose. They also. Want to explore, they want to have experiences that maybe when I was growing up and our world was, you know, in our local community or in our state, they have a much more global view.
Chrissy Wozniak: That's true. Yeah.
Jill Bramble: I think they, they have tremendous assets. You know, as I think this, my own kids, they were kind of born at nine 11 and kind of came of age during a pandemic, right? And as I think about the greatest generation they were born in, the Depression came of age in World War ii. And those bookends of really influential events in our nation's history have a profound impact on their generation.
And I believe if we can provide the right supports for Gen Z, the right opportunities, they have the potential to be the next greatest generation. [00:24:00] They've overcome a lot of adversity. They're not, I wouldn't say they're totally through it yet, but we have an incredible opportunity if we invest in this generation and give them hope for the future.
Chrissy Wozniak: Yeah, and, and it's great to remind ourselves of that, that these youth have really been through a lot from nine 11 and up to the last few years. And that's something, you know, it's easy for as you get older to say, oh, kids have it so easy these days. Right. It's so I think that's important for us to remember
Jill Bramble: and their world is so connected.
If we also think about they don't know life without a cell phone. Yeah. It, it is part of who they are and ordering things online and having it being delivered right away, like their expectations because. Of being a digital native is very different too. So I think, I think it's a balance and I [00:25:00] believe every generation has dealt with their own sense of challenges and it's the onus is on us as youth development organizations to make sure that we're responding to the needs of this generation.
Chrissy Wozniak: Right. Yeah, great points. Something that I've noticed and I'm, I guess I'm a little bit more sensitive to it because my daughter is now, just started her senior year in high school, but as kids Le are, who are in four H, they live for the next event, the next project, the next show. Yeah. And once they hit that last year, They are starting to feel lost.
You know, my, my daughter's friends a little bit lost that they're gonna going to outgrow, outgrow the club soon. Where do you recommend that they go after they graduate out of four H and they're, they already have board experience. They already have so much. So much to give but they just need some direction.
So what do you recommend?
Jill Bramble: Yeah, it's a great point, Chrissy. And we [00:26:00] often find there's almost this sense of mourning when you age out of four H at 18 because it has been a part of you, it's your sense of belonging for so many years. And that's one of the things that we're thinking about at. The national level.
One of the opportunities that we see with this platform called Clover is to provide that connection beyond their, their local program. There are a number of our land-grant universities that have a collegiate. Four H program. So whether she stays in her home state when she goes to college or she goes to another state, I would definitely encourage her to look for the Collegiate four H program on campus to connect with other four hs.
I would also encourage her to get involved in her community, whether it's the community she grew up with or another community, really continue that service learning, that mindset. You know, we still, today at National four H Council, we [00:27:00] have a board that is primarily corporate and philanthropists that are on this board.
But we also have a young person that serves on our board because we believe that they are leaders today and they represent a young alumni advisory committee. So there are some opportunities at the national level that I would also encourage her to pursue where she can continue to be engaged as a four H alum and continue to either give back to the program or benefit personally from remaining connected with four H.
Oh, those are, those are some great options. Thank you. And then more on a personal note, how do you balance your role with. The four H Council with your family life, what lessons have you learned along the way For all moms balance is important and impossible, so what's your strategy? True. So I think number one, US moms need to let go of the word balance because it [00:28:00] is impossible to balance right.