Lake County's rural background allowed the 4-H program to initially be run by the county's agricultural office. (Photo by Steve Schwartz).

TAVARES – The year was 1922, a time when Lake County truly was rural, with an economic base that came almost entirely from agriculture.
Not surprisingly, it was left to the county’s agricultural office to join and launch a local version of 4H, a national nonprofit organization that creates clubs that work with children on a variety of projects.
“In the earliest years, it was led by the Lake County agricultural agent,” said Vera Deaver, who works at the Lake County Extension Office, which oversees the Lake County 4-H program. “Projects included livestock, crops, gardening and home economics. Through the years, a variety of projects grew out of this.”
Today, Lake County is far more diverse. In addition to rural areas, it also has cities like Tavares and Clermont, and suburban communities that have grown around them, including the suburban stretch along U.S. 27 in Four Corners.
But decades later, 4-H remains essentially the same, a program that encourages mentors to work with young people on a variety of projects throughout the year.
“Today Lake County 4-H offers more than 100 different projects for the rural, suburban and urban lifestyles,” Deaver said, adding that the young people who participate in 4-H develop life skills and learn to work together as a team.
“We’re pretty big, also, on community service, just getting out there into the community,” she said.
Not surprisingly, though, these programs cost money, which is why the Lake County Extension Office is turning to the community for help.
The Lake County 4-H Foundation, along with the young people who participate in the program, will be hosting a fund-raiser called “Lake County 4-H Ribs For Kids” on Friday, Jan. 27 from noon-3 p.m. at the Elks Lodge at 2540 Dora Ave., Tavares.
This is the second year that 4-H has hosted the event, which will partially help young people who can’t afford to get into certain programs that have a fee attached.
“We did it last year, and it was a success,” Deaver said. “We have a Leadership Adventure Weekend coming up on January 20th to 22nd at Camp Ocala, and the money from this fund-raiser helps defray the cost the child pays to get in. It’s a fund-raiser to support the youth programs of Lake County through the 4-H foundation, and we did it last year and it went well.”
The kids and the organizers alike are hopeful that the community will turn out and bring them the funds needed to keep these programs alive, she added.
“It ought to do well again,” she said. “We ask that the club leaders get their moms to participate in this.”
In addition to supporting 4-H youth development programs in Lake County, those who attend the fund-raiser can take home a tasty meal, Deaver said. The event will include the sale of barbecue pork ribs or pork roasts prepared by TJ Platt with the Elks Lodge. The first pick-up will begin at noon, and the second pick-up starts at 3 p.m.  The cost is $20 for a full slab of barbecue ribs, and $25 for a pork butt roast.
For $5 each, visitors can also get a half quart of coleslaw or baked beans. To place an order, call 352-343-4101, Ext. 2723, or download an order form online at in PDF/dated stuff delete/10 Ribs sale.pdf.
“Funds raised will be used for summer camp and other 4-H activities,” said Jennifer Hodges, the county’s 4-H youth development agent. “4-H is a great way to aid children in the development of positive life skills that gear them toward being independent and responsible citizens.”
4-H is a partnership between the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, and the Lake County Board of Commissioners.
It also covers virtually the entire county. Currently, the Lake County 4-H program has more than 753 members, 252 youth and adult volunteers and 3,400 students enrolled in school enrichment and after-school programs.
The fundamental 4-H ideal of practical, “learn by doing” experiences encourage youth to experiment, innovate and think independently. 4-H programs are offered through school-based, after-school and camp settings and within community clubs.
“We have about 32 clubs in Lake County,” Deaver said, adding that the list of activities they participate in covers a unique range.
“We have shooting sports clubs that shoot out of the shooting range in Tavares, and then we have a district sewing club in Howey in the Hills,” she said. “We have a lot of general clubs, too. We put them in divisions. Then what we do here at the agricultural center in Tavares is we have three major events we have every year.”
Those include Share the Fun, where kids perform talent acts – “They do skits and dancing and piano and stuff like that,” Deaver said – and a Fashion Review, where “they either sew clothing or they select it. Then we have a citrus tree program. The kids buy a tree for $10 in Apopka, and they grow it and then they take it back to the Central Florida Fair and it’s judged, and they have to learn about citrus diseases.

“There’s a lot, lot of stuff for the kids to do, and it’s at no cost,” she added. “Each leader runs their club differently, and we have a really full, full schedule.”

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