A Mississippi 4-H program was recently recognized for its commitment to helping youth get involved in agriculture and healthy living initiatives.

The Barnyard Crew 4-H club in Hinds County, Miss., was selected to be one of the 2011 Mississippi KIDS COUNT Showcase of Success exhibitors at this year’s KIDS COUNT Summit. They were chosen because of their sustainable agriculture program, which teaches youth about agriculture and health.

The Mississippi KIDS COUNT organization, housed at Mississippi State University, strives to improve outcomes for children, families and communities. The organization also provides information on the state’s children to policymakers, educators, program administrators, parents, advocates and the general public.

Anne Buffington, who works with Mississippi KIDS COUNT, said 15 organizations from around the state were selected to be in the Showcase of Success.

“Groups were selected because of their commitment to improving the lives of children,” she said. “The 4-H Youth Sustainable Agriculture Program fits perfectly into that mold of promoting healthy living.”

Felicia Bell, volunteer leader for the 4-H Youth Sustainable Agriculture Program, said the group’s primary goal is to educate children and their parents about agriculture and healthy eating.

“Participants had to grow a garden on their own property, which taught them commitment and responsibility,” Bell said. “Growing fresh fruits and vegetables increased their access to healthy food. We use natural methods, no chemical-based anything, focusing on the traditional farming methods.”

Rocheryl Ware, 4-H agent in Hinds County, said the children involved with the 4-H Youth Sustainable Agriculture Program have shown an increased interest in gardening, recycling and healthy living.

“The kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables because they had a hand in growing them,” Ware said. “They are also excited about gardening and recycling because of what they have learned through participation in the gardening project.” Ware said the program helps create quality time for the children and their families.

“The program provides a wonderful opportunity for family time because it’s really a joint effort between the kids and their parents,” Ware said. “The families tend their gardens together. It’s so nice to hear the children mention how much they enjoy gardening with their parents, and even their grandparents in some cases.”

Bell said parents are educated along with the children through the hands-on learning approach.

“Even though it is mainly for the youth, we teach the adults along with the children,” Bell said. “They learn by doing instead of by listening to lectures, so the kids and parents are very involved in every part of the gardening process.”

Bell said another program goal is to help participants become future agriculture leaders.

“Everything we teach them is along the lines of using natural agricultural methods and being economical,” Ware said. “And we hope they use their knowledge to educate others.”