For the first time in over a decade, Watonwan County sent a representative--St. James High School senior Alison Durheim--to the National 4-H Conference in Washington, D.C.

Durheim is a 4-H lifer; she’s been involved with the organization for 10 years, and she lives on a farm alongside goats, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits with her parents, Matt and Cindy, and her brothers, Cole and Austin. She plans to get involved with the 4-H program at South Dakota State University next year, where she’ll study animal science with the goal of becoming a large animal veterinarian.

She was in Washington from April 4-11, and she was able to sightsee--and enjoy 4-H’s usual dance-- in addition to her more formal work. Each state, plus places like Canada and Puerto Rico, sent delegates to the conference, and Durheim was one of four from Minnesota.

Sue Craig, the 4-H program coordinator, informed Durheim and her family about the opportunity and later wrote her a letter of recommendation--as did Durheim’s track coach and science teacher, Scott Allen.

Durheim is the federation president, and an active youth leader who always helps plan events, Craig said. “She’s always looking for ways to promote 4-H and coming up with ideas.”

The senior also had to fill out applications listing her achievements and why she was right for this honor, and had to pass a phone interview with Judith Conway--from the University of Minnesota’s Extension Office--who accompanied the Minnesota delegates to Washington.

There were roughly 500 student representatives in attendance, and they were broken into 10 groups, Durheim said. Each group was given a topic to present, and Durheim, along with 14 others, was tasked with explaining why 4-H was a perfect partner for the Maker Movement.

According to Adweek, the Maker Movement “is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. A convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans, the niche is established enough to have its own magazine, Make, as well as hands-on Maker Faires that are catnip for DIYers who used to toil in solitude.”

“Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers,” Adweek continued. “The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and bedroom offices, stir the imaginations of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in–China merchandise.”

In Time Magazine May 19, Tim Bajarin called the movement “very important to America’s future.”

“It has the potential to turn more and more people into makers instead of just consumers, and I know from history that when you give makers the right tools and inspiration, they have the potential to change the world,” he added. Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.

Durheim said she didn’t know about the movement before finding herself in the group, but she’s glad she got to learn about it.

“The Maker Movement is hands-on, and I like that idea, because we need more hands-on learning--we just don’t have the tools,” she said. “4-H is all hands-on, and I wouldn’t be where I am without 4-H.”

After spending three days crafting their 40-minute presentation, Durheim and her partners spoke to the Board of Science and Technology, and it was positively received, she said. “Everyone was there because they were a leader in 4-H, and it was a really good experience.”

The final aspect of this convention, however, is bringing it back home to one’s state and county, she said, and her presentation in 4-H will revolve around how adults can be more hands-on. “I’ve worked with animals my whole life; it’s second-nature to me.”

Durheim has shown animals at the state fair for the last four years and at the Watonwan County Fair for the last nine. Though she’s focused mostly on goats, she’s shown turkeys, chickens, rabbits, and cattle, too.

“If it wasn’t for 4-H, I wouldn’t be responsible or half as organized as I am now,” she said. “4-H gives you a lot of leadership opportunities, and I wouldn’t have gotten into the schools where I was accepted--like (Minnesota)--if not for that background.”

Ryan Anderson can be reached at randerson@stjamesnews and followed on Twitter @randerson_ryan