The difference between urban and rural youth is a wide one. Children grow up in different environments and have different beliefs. That can lead to conflict.
To bridge the gulf, the OSU Extension Service 4-H started the Urban-Rural Exchange program to give seventh- and eighth-grade students the opportunity to walk a mile in each other’s boots across the rural-urban divide. During five- to six-day exchanges, the middle schoolers get an understanding of natural resource management issues from both an urban and rural perspective. They develop a camaraderie between families and gain a deeper understanding of the environmental, social and economic issues from both perspectives.
The program started in 2006 after an Oregon Fish and Wildlife hearing where urban youth spoke in favor of wolf re-introduction. The eastern Oregon ranchers didn’t appreciate their take on the problem without knowing about the issues first hand.
“It was a really big deal,” says Maureen Hosty, faculty member of Oregon State University Extension Service 4-H youth development. “We decided we needed to do an exchange. We organized the first one with 20 kids going to Grant County. We tap into what’s going on with important issues, both rural and urban.”
The program has been going ever since, with exchanges with Grant, Klamath, Wallowa, Harney, Morrow, Gilliam, Baker and Wheeler counties. During the trips, kids get a taste of what real life is like. In rural situations, they may help with branding, calving, moving irrigation pipe, cleaning out barns, and fixing fences. In Portland, the 4-H youth go on train, trolley and tram rides and hike in Forest Park.
Jay Weil, a Portland eighth grader, says the six days he spent in rural Oregon changed his life. He eloquently recounts the impression the trip made on him: “The people were so kind, present and down to earth. It was my home away from home where I could express my feelings and people actually listened instead of nodding while looking at their cell phones.”