HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - Sherrie Peterson, of Franklin Township, is the 2019 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Hunterdon County Board of Agriculture.
She was honored at the group’s recent annual meeting. Peterson, as the county’s 4-H program assistant, is the fulltime head of the youth organization which, about 300 young people in 22 clubs overseen by 150 volunteer leaders.
“The 4-H program has been blessed with having her at the helm,” the farm board said.
In her 17 years as program associate, she has increased both the number of clubs and the number of people involved in the program. “In a time when many of the youth are finding other interests, our 4-H program is holding onto our young people and turning them into responsible, goal-oriented young adults” skilled in leadership, public speaking and record keeping, it noted.
The biggest event for county 4-H each year is the Hunterdon County 4-H and Agriculture Fair and Peterson plays a major role. With 35 4-H shows, events or activities during the 5-day run, along with being responsible for all the members and leaders who participate, she finds it enjoyable but admits “it can make for a very stressful week.” Peterson basically “lives” at the Fair, the ag board noted, ensuring that all the 4-H program and events run smoothly. Under her direction 4-H members help get the Fairgrounds cleaned up and ready for it, then afterward help just as much in “breaking down” and putting things all away.
She joined the staff of the 4-H department, part of Rutgers Cooperative Extension, right after high school as a clerk-typist in 1985. She left to raise three children, then was recruited by the county 4-H agent in 2002 to return, but as program assistant. After the agent retired, Peterson became head of the program.
Peterson grew up in Baptistown, a daughter of Bernie and Carol Jurkowski, who raised dairy goats. Her mother was a leader of the Udder Joy Kids goat club, and she, her two brothers and two sisters were all members. She was also a member of the Junior Leaders 4-H club, co-founded by Louisa Cole of Readington Township, who is still a leader.
Peterson and her husband, Matt, live on the family farm between Quakertown and Cherryville where field crops, strawberries, Christmas trees and beef cattle are raised. Sherrie and Matt are leaders of the Hunterdon Deadeyes 4-H shooting sports club. Formed in 2005, it now has 48 members and 18 volunteer instructors. Interest is so great, she noted, that the club became too big and a second group was founded, the Spot-On Shooters.
One unusual 4-H project Peterson started is the applesauce fundraiser. Using applies raised and donated by the Rutgers’ Snyder Research Farm in Franklin, the young shooters spend a weekend making and canning applesauce to sell. Proceeds help pay for members to attend the National 4-H Shooting Sports Championships in Nebraska.
While 4-H decades ago was mainly for farm boys and girls, with livestock, gardening, cooking and sewing clubs popular, the mix has changed with the times, Peterson noted. The robotics club, called Robostorm “is very popular,” she noted. For those interested in biology and medicine, there’s the S.A.V.E. (Student Adventures Veterinary Experience), she added.
According to the farm board, for Peterson, 4-H is not just a job. “She lives and breathes the program and what is best for the members. Hunterdon County is a better placed because of her efforts and her desire to always ‘Make the Best Better,’ ” which is the national 4-H motto.