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4-H team wins top honors in land judging contest
FLORA – Taking top honors at the state 4-H land judging contest might seem like an impossible goal for an urban-based team of 4-H’ers with only YouTube videos and an aquarium of soil as training tools.
But thanks to the direction of an experienced, passionate 4-H volunteer leader, the team placed first and second in the state competition March 21 in Flora.
“None of these kids have ever participated in the land judging program, and some of them have never left the coast,” said Sheran Watkins, 4-H agent with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service in Harrison County. “So land judging is slightly more challenging for us, especially since I don’t have access to a backhoe to dig a hole like the ones they will be expected to judge during the competition.”
The senior team finished in second place, and the junior team placed first. Harrison County also boasts two of the high-scoring individuals. Garrett Stone and Simone Hinton placed second and third, respectively, among all 4-H’ers participating.
Senior team members are Simone Hinton, Garrett Stone and Brianna Stone. Junior team members are Landon Sandoval, Gabe Stone, Craig Hinton, Crystal Hinton, Jasmine Kerezsi and Roberto Kerezsi.
“I am so proud of our team members,” Watkins said. “They have studied and worked hard to compete in this contest, and they owe a lot of thanks to our volunteer leader. The team is really blessed to have her as a teacher.”
Originally from Puerto Rico, Yamilet Kerezsi stepped up to lead the group when she learned they were interested in land judging. Kerezsi is a former 4-H’er and also holds a degree in agronomy, making her a perfect fit for the team.
“My first competition in 4-H was land judging,” she said. “I loved the feeling of the soil, and I liked to grow things even though I wasn’t really good at it at first. 4-H taught me the basic skills I needed to make plants flourish and the importance of taking care of the land.”
Kerezsi was thrilled to coach the team because of her strong convictions about the positive influence 4-H had in her life. She credits 4-H with reinforcing her interest in sustainable agriculture and influencing her course of study in college.
“Being involved in 4-H really opened a lot of doors for me in college and in life, and I am happy to give back to the program that gave me so much in life,” Kerezsi said.
For Kerezsi, the land judging program conveys much more than the importance of good land stewardship.
“Kids need to learn about agriculture and food production and the value of protecting our natural resources,” Kerezsi said. “But on a separate level, 4-H is a great resource for kids to improve their ability to function as a member of a team, communicate effectively and contribute to their communities in a positive manner while gaining self-confidence.”
Kerezsi said that is why she is such a big fan of 4-H.
“4-H has a very broad scope of programming that is offered year-round. Every child can find something that interests them,” she said. “Children also have the opportunity to work and socialize with many different types of people.”
Land judging is one of several project areas within the 4-H youth development program. It teaches children to value and respect the earth’s soil, raises their awareness of the importance of conservation, and gives them a practical understanding of land use.
“Soil is not an expendable resource,” said Larry Oldham, competition judge and Extension professor in MSU’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. “It’s important to teach young people about the balance between land use and soil preservation and the methods for deciding those things.”
Team members learn to identify different soil types by studying the soil’s texture, permeability, depth, slope, erosion and surface runoff. Team members then score each of these characteristics to decide what the land would best support, such as a homes, crops, livestock, timber or industry. They also must decide whether the land needs any type of treatment, such as fertilizer, erosion control or fencing, to achieve its purpose.
The land judging program, like other 4-H programs, can help children discover a career and make life choices, Watkins said.
“The objective of the program is to create a connection to the land and an understanding of conservation, but kids come away with so much more,” Watkins said. “They gain skills they can use the rest of their lives, and not just in agriculture-related jobs or activities. Real estate agents and engineers can use the principles to better judge a plot of land.