Conference Marks the Beginning of a New Partnership Between 4-H Nova Scotia and StFX University. Event Benefits Greatly from Extension Department Support.

The StFX 4-H Society is coming off a tremendous high after hosting its first successful “Leadership Development Conference” focusing on one of 4-H Canada’s Leadership Development Pillars. The theme of this year’s conference was “Sustainable Food and Agriculture” and was held June 27- 29, 2017. The Society worked collaboratively with 4-H Nova Scotia and St. Francis Xavier University in a new partnership to welcome 45 youth, ages 13-18, to Antigonish.

The conference was open to both 4-H’ers and non-members alike with representation from each of the four Atlantic provinces. While on campus, the students were given a real “university experience” – staying in residence, eating with friends at meal hall, and meeting with StFX students, faculty, and staff throughout.

By the numbers:

  • 45 Delegates
  • 20 University Faculty and Staff
  • 12 Student Volunteer Facilitators
  • 10 Community Members

Highlights of the conference include:

Cooking for the Future:

Upon their arrival, delegates were first tasked with making the meal for the opening banquet. Participants were introduced to several Human Nutrition and Sociology faculty and were challenged on where exactly many of the foods they have come to know and love actually come from, and the environmental and social impact some of these foods have on our society. Many student’s remarked that this was their first time being able to actively participate in preparing a meal and that they felt a sense of pride in having had a part in making the meal shared later in the evening with invited guests.

Welcome Dinner:

After a busy afternoon of mashing potatoes and preparing broth, delegates were able to finally enjoy their homemade shepherd’s pie and chicken stew. Sitting amongst the delegates were representatives of the local and provincial 4-H body, StFX 4-H Society members, StFX faculty, and many invited sponsors and engaged community partners. Dr. Kent MacDonald, president of StFX brought greetings on behalf of the university while Central Nova MP Sean Fraser encouraged delegates to showcase their leadership skills in their local communities.

Growing Local at Martha’s Garden:

Day two began with delegates boarding the StFX bus and heading to the Martha’s Garden in collaboration with the Sisters of Saint Martha and the Martha’s New Growers program. Here students were divided into small groups and rotated through various stations focused on Atlantic farming practices. These included organic vegetable growing, beef and dairy production, and beekeeping.  The Sisters also shared their stories from when the farm served to feed the initiatives of the organization, including the local hospital. Delegates were especially enthused when discussing how the chickens were prepared in earlier times and the labour intensity of the farm work conducted by the Sisters.

Hunger Banquet:

After exciting adventures at Bethany, delegates were soon reminded of their global privilege. Instead of receiving lunch upon their arrival, participants were given one of four different coloured tickets. Each ticket representing a portion of the world’s population. A lucky five were selected as being members of the upper class and sat at a table fully set and catered by a local restaurant. Another five were assembled to be a part of the middle-income group and sat at a plain table with no settings and were given a fast food meal. The remaining participants sat on the floor with half receiving rice and beans, while the other half were given only rice.  These two groups represented the global poor and the reality that most people on Earth have very limited incomes and experience a high degree of food insecurity.

Following the meal pizza was provided to the delight of many in attendance who feared they would have to go the rest of the afternoon without!

Amazing Green Race:

In place of a traditional campus tour, faculty and staff of various departments were stationed at strategically located points on campus and acted as clue holders. Delegates moved from place to place on campus, followed by the clues from the previous station. This allows participants to be introduced to the physical aspects of campus, including the sustainable initiatives being undertaken by the university in its learning spaces, and be introduced to the faculty of many unique programs within each department. One of the stops along the way included the solar panels mounted on the roof of the Bloomfield Centre allowing each person to scale the roof and see the campus from a very different point of view!

Self-Actualization and Sustainability Leadership:

After a busy day outdoors, organizers and delegates alike were please to spend the evening listening to the keynote address of Frank Gallant and Veronika Brant. The pair discussed in depth the importance of self-actualization, goal setting, and independent thinking while relating it to their own experiences and perseverance in their gardening and working lives.

Learn to Lead by Leading – McKenna Centre for Leadership:

In partnership with the McKenna Centre for Leadership, members of the StFX 4-H Society organized activities and facilitated discussions that helped conference delegates put together the pieces gathered over the previous two days and create a plan for how they will improve and exercise their own leadership in their home communities. These activities began with the individual and outlined each person’s assets and strengths. Each individual was then asked to set goals for themselves aligning with their club, their community, and their country – a key element of the 4-H program. Participants were then moved into groups based on their home location and asked to create regional goals that they could fulfill together when they return home. These “regional declarations” were then collected and will be sent to each member later in the summer to remind them of their commitment to take the conference home.

Initial feedback from conference delegates, organizers, and stakeholders has been extremely positive with many indicating an interest of returning in following years to StFX for the Leadership Development Conference.

A 2018 conference is already in the works and will focus on Community Engagement and Communication. This theme comes at an important time for StFX as 2018 also marks the 100th anniversary of the Antigonish Movement and the 90th anniversary of the Extension Department. Such an event will fit nicely with broader university-wide celebrations.

The StFX 4-H Society looks forward to offering additional leadership opportunities to youth throughout Atlantic Canada and beyond through the continuous develop and support of the Leadership Development Conference. The Society also acknowledges the tremendous support of faculty advisor and Conference Co-Chair Dr. Norine Verberg, Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture staff, Antigonish Leader’s Council, 4-H Nova Scotia, StFX University, and the many donors who made this event possible. The efforts of these groups have been enjoyed by many from across the Atlantic region.

What People are Saying:

Helping the world become more sustainable involves leadership, taking initiative, committing to making a change, and spreading this knowledge and ambition.

-Conference Delegate

The activities we did over the course of the last few days were where leadership became a large role… these activities made me realize that without someone having good leadership qualities simple tasks can become harder to overcome.

-Conference Delegate

Food security is an issue that I believe is most important to focus on. After waiting for lunch, then getting the group on the floor for the hunger banquet, I realize how affected people are by food security.

-Conference Delegate

When Veronika (Self-Actualization and Sustainability Leadership) was talking about her farm and her garden it made me want to be a farmer/gardener even more.

-Conference Delegate

The planning process has been highly rewarding, being able to engage with faculty members outside the classroom has been a wonderful experience and has given me a greater appreciation for the research and work that is conducted at StFX University.

 – Jordan MacDonald, Conference Co-Chair

The Leadership Development Conference enabled me to grow as an individual and to improve my own leadership skills. The structure and theme of the conference provided a strong framework for engaging with issues surrounding sustainability, and made me acknowledge and work on various issues which I may have otherwise not understood.

-Will Fraser, Conference Volunteer

The university administration has been an integral partner and taken on an ownership role in conjunction with the 4-H society and 4-H Nova Scotia. Their support has been invaluable as they have provided lots of in-kind services from assistance with various events to marketing to venues. We have also received tremendous support from faculty and staff from a variety of departments including nutrition, sociology and business. It’s amazing to see the StFX community come together to ensure the success of this conference and help our delegates go home with a new outlook on sustainable agriculture and food security.

-Jane Stevenson, President StFX 4-H Society