Lisa Thompson looks back on her 4-H roots with 'The Citizen'
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
As The Citizen celebrates 4-H in Huron County, one of the county’s most famous alumni of the program, Lisa Thompson, took the time to look back at the 4-H organization and all it has meant to her.
Thompson was first elected as the Member of Provincial Parliament just over 10 years ago. After being re-elected in 2018, Thompson was named Minister of Education by Premier Doug Ford before taking on the role of the Minister of Government and Consumer Services. She is now the province’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, taking over for Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman earlier this year. Before getting involved in politics, Thompson served as a rural community advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and as the general manager of the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-operative.
Thompson has often cited being a 4-H member as a formative experience for her and now it applies more than ever in her position at the top of the agricultural world in Ontario. In fact, last week, Thompson appeared in a special video to celebrate 4-H, which was posted on her Twitter account. In it, she said she first became a 4-H member at the age of 11 and appreciated all of the knowledge and experiences associated with being a member, including the 4-H exchange program, which she specifically mentioned.
In an interview with The Citizen, Thompson said that joining 4-H clubs and showing livestock at shows throughout the province is just what the Thompson family did. Growing up in the Belgrave area, Thompson said she would show purebred Hereford cattle, just as her father and grandfather had years earlier.
When she was just a child, Thompson said she would participate in the local 4-H calf club, which has always been a memory Thompson says she cherishes.
One of her earliest memories that led to her time in 4-H, she said, was when her father bought her her first calf. Thompson said she remembers climbing the fence to look over, which shows just how tall she was at the time, and seeing her calf for the first time. It’s a memory, she said, that has always stuck with her.
Not only was she excited to see her own calf for the first time, but she also says she remembers that moment for another reason. The calf was about as tall as Thompson was, she said, which could have made showing the animal a challenge, but her father imparted some wisdom on her. He told his daughter that if she really wanted to be successful in showing animals through 4-H, she would find a way to make it happen, even if she was quite young. She said that talk really made her want to succeed in the program even more.
Once she was established as a member, she said she found a great amount of support within Huron County 4-H. Members came from all over the county, she said, and it really instilled county pride in her and others.
Her club’s achievement program was always held in September at the Brussels Fall Fair, so she says she has a special relationship with that event when it comes to her own family history.
Thompson would remain an active 4-H member for years, working with community pillars like Don and Florence Pullen and others until she graduated at the age of 19. However, her work with the organization would continue when she took a job with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs as a rural community advisor. As part of that position, she helped co-ordinate 4-H events and support local leaders in Peel and Halton Regions.
Since getting involved in provincial politics, all the way up to her prestigious cabinet position, Thompson says that as she travels the province, 4-H is never far from her heart. She said that when she makes funding announcements or meets with leaders from the sector, it doesn’t take much discussion to find a connection through 4-H clubs, competitions or members.
One aspect of her 4-H work that particularly sticks out in her mind, Thompson said, is the development camps. There, she said, participants would spend the morning learning a new leadership trait and then, in line with the 4-H motto of “Learn to do by doing”, they would put their newly-learned skills into practice in the afternoon exercises. That work, she said, not only helped members and leaders learn new skills, but they were also able to gain confidence in themselves as a result and bring those new skills back to their home counties and impart them to other club members.
Another of her big takeaways from the program, she said, is that it really taught you how to respond to winning and to coming up just short. She said that 4-H competition was good for her, imparting a good work ethic and the push to strive for better. Winning or not, both are alright, Thompson said, but 4-H helped to teach her to go the extra mile and work harder in the pursuit of victory.