Cathy Allen

Meet Damien, a middle school student from Baltimore City.  Damien is sitting sideways in a chair nestled in a sunny corner of a schools’ auditorium. He’s wearing bright yellow earbuds, bopping his head to the rhymes of the music playing on his iPhone.  But underneath all that sway, Damien is shaking in his boots with nervousness and excited energy.

You see, Damien has entered his photo into a photography competition sponsored by The University of Maryland Extension-Baltimore City 4-H Youth Development Program.  If Damien’s photography submission is chosen as the first, second or third place winner he goes on to the Maryland State Fair Competition.

Now I know you’re wondering, what does 4-H, an agriculture program have to do with creative arts like photography?

In recent years, 4-H Urban Youth Programming has revamped its programming to reflect the culture of the urban population through competitive and non-competitive creative arts and sciences that includes: photography, spoken words, poetry, fashion and jewelry design, and theater arts. In addition, engineering/technology, horticulture and agriculture sciences are also taught.

Manami Brown, Baltimore City extension educator, heads up Baltimore’s 4-H urban youth program. She was appointed the 4-H Baltimore City Extension Director with the University of Maryland Extension.  Manami and her team of environmental, nutrition, and health educators are leading the charge in 4-H Urban Youth Development.

On May 14, the Baltimore City Extension 4-H, the Department of Agriculture, Maryland Baltimore City Master Gardeners, youths, parents, and community members held the first of its kind, Baltimore City 4-H Youth Expo at Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City. The expo showcased city-wide youth efforts in photography, fashion/jewelry art, poetry and baked goods.

“Youth citywide who participate in the University of Maryland Extension, Baltimore City 4-H Youth Development Program receive leadership, nutrition, workforce readiness, entrepreneurship, and science development skills. As a result, they become positive role models in their communities, which leads to youth-led initiatives that engages communities in civic, business, community mapping, and other science and related projects,” said Brown.

Currently, school education curriculums have been lean when offering programming that promotes positive expression, the spirit of competition, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.  As a result, individual schools are reaching out and incorporating programming such as 4-H Urban Youth Development into their curriculums.  Just ask Angela Henry, principal of Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, who adopted the 4-H programming for the entire school.  Now all 300 plus students at Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle School are engaging in some form of 4-H programming during school and after-school.

In the 1960’s 4-H was introduced to the urban population under the U. S. Department of Urban Agriculture.  To educate urban youth between the ages of 5-18 in: entrepreneurship, nutrition education – which included vegetables and fruit canning, agriculture, workforce readiness, leadership and citizenship. The creative arts competition component of 4-H before the 1960’s were limited to sewing, arts and craft for girl 4-H groups only.

To incorporate 4-H Youth Development Programs in your school, community, or groups contact: The University of Maryland Extension office at 410.856.1850, ext. 114 or email

As for Damien, I’m proud to say his photo came in first place in the photography competition.  Damien is headed off to the State Fair in August with loads of resources, encouragement and support from his peers, 4-H and school educators, family and friends. Go Damien.

Cathy Allen is an award-winning Urban Environmentalist, the co-creator of G.R.A.S.S. (Growing Resources After Sowing Seed) as well as Chair of the “Grow-It Eat It” campaign. G.R.A.S.S. is an environmental entrepreneurial nonprofit program based on the fundamentals of gardening, agriculture and ecology. In conjunction with Baltimore City Public Schools, Allen’s campaign has planted over a half-million trees on the lawns of Baltimore City public schools.