By Butch Weir, Editor, The Poplarville Democrat
The Picayune Item
Alex Shook draws on a wealth of personal experience when navigating around the world that is the Pearl River County 4-H program as its new director.
Growing up in Bush, La., across the state line from Pearl River County, Shook joined 4-H in the fourth grade and remained in it throughout high school, serving as secretary, president and CRD chairman (community resource development) who helped plan activities for the club.
“I was very active, even from a young age. I got into 4-H because I wanted to show livestock,” he said. “I had other family members that had shown livestock before and it was something that I couldn’t wait to do.”
Shook says he was already familiar with this area when the opening for the 4-H agent position here came along. He fills the position formerly held by Meagan Scott who had been recognized as 4-H Agent of the Year in Mississippi prior to her termination late last year.
As a 4-H member Shook kept busy with many of its offerings — record books, county achievement days, livestock and dairy judging and more. “I tried a lot of different contests but livestock was always kind of my passion,” he said.
Even though Shook did not grow up on a farm, his parents supported him and an aunt and uncle with a larger farm nearby helped. “I kept a lot of my animals at their place out in their pasture,” he said.
Also, the school he attended had an active aagricultural department and school farm. “We were able to keep livestock projects on campus there,” he said. Students could even process the animal meat into sausage or bacon or different cuts of meat when show season ended.
He joined FFA (Future Farmers of America) in the seventh grade “and that just kind of fueled my fire … my love for agriculture.” FFA taught him public speaking and he participated in many events in both 4-H and FFA across Louisiana.
He said the Louisiana and Mississippi 4-H programs are very similar and that he’s shown cattle in Poplarville “more times than I can remember.”
“Being that close to the state line you know a lot of people … I really didn’t have that ‘stranger’ feel,” when making the move here, he said.
A year after high school Shook applied for the American FFA degree, the highest degree available in that program, getting it in 2005. He earned an animal science degree from Louisiana Tech University and while there volunteered in shooting sports with a local 4-H club.
“I always knew that I either wanted to be an Ag teacher or a county agent,” Shook said. “I like the scenery change as a county agent, where you weren’t necessarily in the classroom every day” and could travel around the county and state to meet new people. “I’ve always enjoyed working with the youth, passing on that love of agriculture … trying to give them the life skills that they need to succeed.”
He said when youth participate in 4-H and do the projects, regardless of the type, they are learning life skills and how to make decisions.
“They learn early on in the 4-H program how to make choices.”
His career in Extension work started in Bossier Parish, La., as an Agriculture/4-H agent and from there he went to Texas A&M Extension as a 4-H agent. He believes serving in those two programs gave him a “unique perspective” that he can bring to his service here because of a slight difference in those two states’ programs.
He says most of 4-H clubs in Louisiana are found in the schools, but in Texas he found more home-school students, although the 4-H projects offered remained the same. “Really, a lot of times it’s just the way we deliver our information. We have to customize it to an area in the state.”
“I won’t say one’s better than the other, it’s just different.”
He says that is one of the attributes of a successful agent, in being able to meet the needs of the people that are being served. “And those needs will change over the years as you serve in one area.”
When asked if he sees anything here in need of changing and if he wants to look at some new projects Shook said, “Any time a new agent comes into an area like this, over time, we’ll try several new things — some of them will work, some of them won’t.” That is why evaluating the overall program with the participants is important, he said, and used attendance as an example. If a certain program is not well attended after it’s started that would be a sign it may not be suitable for that locality.
He wants to “do a good job of promoting the program we already have in place. …We always can benefit by more marketing … because no matter where you go, even in a rural area like this there are still going to be people who don’t really know what 4-H does.”
One woman told him one time she thought 4-H was “cow, sows and plows.” He said there is something for everyone in 4-H.
4-H still has those agricultural-based programs, Shook said, but said there is much more, such as fashion, which he said is agricultural-based when the origins of textiles are examined. Robotics is another new area because a lot of farming now is impacted by that, such as using unmanned tractors in plowing. Also, there is now a robotics club taking advantage of the 4-H S.E.T. project (science, engineering, technology).
“Computer programs assist us in keeping accurate records of production, operations, and equipment is becoming more advanced.” There will be a camp in that area at the end of this month, he said.
“I would like to see all the programs grow. I would really like to increase the membership numbers here in Pearl River County. I see a tremendous potential for growth here ….”
I’m glad to be here; I’m glad to be home. I’m excited about working with the folks here in the county, specifically the youth here in the county and I hope to expand the program.
We always want to get as many kids we can. You want to expose as many kids as you can to positive activities. I know first-hand what the lifelong benefits are.” Shook says he still keeps in touch with friends he made in 4-H. He says learning the skills in 4-H, such as getting in front of people for a presentation, is something that will benefit later in life.
“You find me some other organization that offers what we offer and doesn’t cost anything to join.” He says some of the events such as horse shows may have entry fees or associated costs but the joining 4-H does not cost anything.
“It’s always been kind of a running joke in every extension service I’ve been at …. ‘You know, Extension is the state’s best kept secret.’”
For anybody who is interested in learning about the 4-H program in the county, in addition to contacting the Extension office at 601-403- 2080 there is a Facebook page, Pearl River County 4-H, that can be accessed for information on programs and upcoming events. People can also send messages requesting information from that source.
There is an enrollment period for 4-H membership coming up soon but becoming a 4-H member can be done at any time of the year.