What is the meaning of livestock production for long-standing 4-H members? : a hermeneutic phenomenological study
Raising livestock for food production is a unique cultural phenomenon. It has been well documented that showing livestock as part of 4-H (a positive youth development program operating in 50 nations around the world) contributes to practical skills, knowledge, and life skills. While it is common to view livestock production through skills-based or economic lenses, there are subtle nuances of the phenomenon, the social, cultural, and emotional aspects that are harder to capture. The purpose of this study was to generate an interpretation of the meaning of livestock production for long-standing 4-H livestock project members, as well as to uncover how these project experiences manifest in other aspects of members' lives. This project answers the question, "What does it mean to be a livestock producer?" Based on the assumption that understanding is rooted in lived experience, a Heideggerian Hermeneutic approach was used to examine transcripts of in-depth audio recorded interviews with 4-H members who are high school juniors or seniors and have been enrolled in livestock projects throughout their entire 4-H careers. In an additional photo elicitation activity, participants' reflections on livestock photographs from their childhood were examined. Two overarching patterns, paradoxical in nature, were uncovered: a) Livestock Production as a Culture of Care and Connection; and b) Livestock Production as a Culture of Loss and Misunderstanding. Patterns illuminated in this research will help inform and enhance both formal and non-formal educational experiences surrounding youth livestock production. This study will also add to agriculture industry's understanding of how youth experience growing up in livestock production. Finally, this study provides insight into the importance of continuing to explore the ways livestock producers engage with consumers about agriculture.