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4-H Brand Products from the Farm

Almost from the creation of the term "4-H" – 3-H or 4-H – and before the use of the 4-H emblem, enterprising young girls and boys were using the term "4 H Brand" as a "stamp of quality" on their home-grown farm products resulting from 4-H projects... kind of like the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval."

Today the 4-H emblem is a federally protected mark that can’t be used on products without approval. The 4-H emblem was patented in 1924, and a 1939 law protects the use of both the 4-H name and the emblem.

"Early" 4-H'ers were very keen on the management and marketing of their projects. Accurate record-keeping and accountability were stressed by the leaders and county agents. And, creative marketing was often the key to success... devising ideas on how to market their products that even their parents or leaders had not thought about. So, whether it was vegetables from the 4-H garden, fruit from the orchard, eggs from the hen house, dairy products from the barn or honey from the 4-H bee hive, creative marketing was important to the young boys and girls.

These above five labels, as displayed on page 102 of the 4-H history book, "The 4-H Story" by Franklin M. Reck, show labels for seed corn, apples, salmon, seed potatoes and tomatoes. The 4-H Brand Labels were probably in use some time between 1911 and 1915... probably the salmon and apples labels shown above are from a slightly later date. Note that the tomato label is from the Girls' Farm Improvement Club of Geauga County, Ohio. Two of the labels – salmon and apples - carry the motto "To Make the Best Better." While this motto was not officially adopted until 1927, obviously it was in use long before that time. Also note that all five labels carry a small book-shaped logo with a center image.

These images with the miniature open book (signifying the need for education in farm living) coincide with a series of project demonstration pins that were manufactured by Christian Finance Association starting in 1911 and promoted to the states by O. H. Benson, Assistant in Demonstration Club Work, and O. B. Martin, Assistant in Charge of Boys' Demonstration Work, USDA in February, 1912.

4-H BRAND LABELS FOR CLUB WORK – Those in charge of club work in the federal office strongly supported the use of 4-H brand labels for marketing 4-H produce, encouraging the boys and girls to standardize their products.

A 1914 directive out of the Washington office states: "In connection with the boys and girls' club work the 4-H brand canning labels, seed corn labels and seed potato labels are of especial importance in encouraging the club members to standardize their products. State, district and county men who are interested in the 4-H brand labels and wish samples of them can secure the same by writing the office of farm management, says O. H. Benson, government specialist, in charge of club work."

While the labels were free to club members, the requirements in using the labels were stringent. Here, for example, are the requirements for getting Seed Potato labels: "Every potato club member in a state or county may secure these labels free of charge through the state or county leader, providing he meets the following standardization requirements in the selection of seed potatoes: (1) Club member must have a definite, standard variety or strain of potato; (2) seed potatoes must be selected by hand from the hill and the label must show the average number of potatoes in the hills from which the seed was selected; (3) club member must state on label the yield per acre of plot from which seed was selected; (4) seed potatoes must be guaranteed free from scab and other diseases; (5) the 4-H brand label must be signed by club member and O.K.'d by state, district or county leader or local chairman of committee authorized to check up and indorse club members' seed. All users of the 4-H brand labels must be members of the federated club work of the United States."

The USDA Farmers' Bulletin 853 dated July 1917, "Home Canning of Fruits and Vegetables as taught to Canning Club Members in the Southern States" by Mary Creswell and Ola Powell lays out the standards for 4-H brand canned vegetables and fruits including the net weight for each sized can. These standards were specified for produce ranging from tomatoes, okra and string beans to figs, peaches and berries. USDA provided canning information on a broad assortment of fruits, vegetables and other foods. The December 1921 issue of "Western Canner and Packer" magazine reports that canned jambalaya is to be the newest 4-H brand product in the Southern States!

The annual Handy Book distributed by the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work starting in the early 1920s, carried the first items offered through the National 4-H Supply Service. The Handy Book, for several years - in several different designs - carried 4-H brand labels. Printed in green and prepared especially for canned goods, the label gives room for name and address and states: "This Label Adopted for Club Products only". In 1926, the labels were available for: 25 for 15 cents; 50 for 25 cents; 100 for 45 cents and 1,000 for $4.00.


The 1930 4-H Handy Book carried a new product - 4-H Egg Cartons. These cartons had the 4-H emblem on the carton. They sold for 250 for $3.95 and 500 for $7.65. The catalog states: "Poultry Club members! Start in business for yourself. This high grade egg carton has been designed to assist 4-H Club members in establishing a regular market for quality eggs of their own production... This carton gives an individual touch to your product... Lettered in green with 4-H emblem and place for your name or name of local club."

Starting in the late 1920's the Ball Corporation, which was providing monetary awards for 4-H canning projects, began distribution of glass canning jars with an embossed 4-leaf clover on the side. Although the clover did not have the "H's on it, these canning jars were intended for use by 4-H girls to show that their canned produce was from their 4-H gardens or orchards.


The above photo shows an attractive display of 4-H potatoes grown by members of 4-H Clubs in Platte County, Missouri in 1944 as shown in a Kansas City A & P supermarket, creating much interest among patrons and fine publicity for 4-H. Several clubs went in on the project as the clubs had to assure A & P that they would have a steady product availability throughout the harvest season, that the potatoes would be fresh, properly graded and delivered as promised - a business contract which the club members fulfilled with high performance. Potatoes were dug from 6-9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to dark, except on very cool or cloudy days between late July and early September. Stress was laid on protecting the tubers from the sun so they would stand shipping. To prevent picked tubers from heating, they were relocated to a shed as soon as possible. In grading, great care was used to keep out tubers which had been cut, sunburned, scabby or otherwise defective to protect their good 4-H brand name. Not only did the young potato growers learn about production, but they got a first hand experience with marketing. The showy bags with the bright green 4-leaf clover made an eye-catching display.

Referenced to in some writings as "home industries," these creative ventures by enterprising young 4-H members in marketing their project products is an interesting small part of 4-H history. These young people were confident in the product being marketed and willing to stand behind the quality of that product. While many of these products were food items – jars of maple syrup in Vermont, boxes of butter in Wisconsin and cartons of eggs in Texas – there were also non-food items. Rugs, table runners, wall hangings, pillows, handbags and other home furnishings or items of clothing may have had a "made by 4-H member" tag affixed to the article.

If you have examples of 4-H brand products like those described here, we would enjoy hearing about them and having a photo. Write:

Principal authors: Larry L. Krug and James Kahler

Compiled by National 4-H History Preservation Team.

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