This talk examines the early history of 4-H, the United States Department of Agriculture’s iconic rural youth organization. Often mistaken for a nostalgic relic of by-gone rural America, 4-H clubs were actually an engine of rural state building, modernization, and cultural reform. At the turn of the 20th century, rural reformers argued that backward farms and families drove the best youth from the country into vice-ridden, immoral cities, leaving a “degenerated” countryside bereft of its fittest future citizens. The USDA used youth clubs to bypass backward patriarchs reluctant to embrace modern farming techniques. Instead, 4-H cultivated efficient, capital-intensive farms and convinced rural people to trust federal expertise. The modern 4-H farm, according to 4-H organizers, featured gender-appropriate divisions of labor and produced healthy, robust children well suited for life in a modern countryside. By midcentury, the vision of healthy, heterosexual 4-H’ers laboring on family farms advertised the attractiveness of the emerging agribusiness economy, and anchored the USDA’s authority to new ideas about normal farms, families, and sexuality.