The 4-H Food Challenge is a contest that provides a fun, yet challenging, food-focused learning opportunity for youth ages 8 to 18, (as of September 1st of the current 4-H year). Youth work in teams of 3-4 youth, of the same age division, to create a dish using a predetermined set of ingredients and cooking utensil/equipment. First, each team plans and prepares one of the randomly assigned dishes while being judged on their food safety skills, teamwork, and ability to manage time and resources. Then youth present their finished dish, deliver a five-minute presentation, and answer questions about their dish to a panel of judges.
In August 2022, two Wakulla 4-H members accepted a daunting challenge. Brooklynn “Brook” Green and Noah Pearson committed to representing Florida 4-H at the National Food Challenge at the State Fair of Texas. While they started with a team of four, two members had to withdraw due to school schedule conflicts. The usual schedule would involve competing at the county, district, and state level before advancing to a national competition. As the first team to represent Florida 4-H in this competition, Brook and Noah went straight from the county level to the national event.
To prepare for the event, Brook and Noah spent hours each week leading up to the October competition completing mock challenges under competition conditions. In addition, the two youth also worked to raise funds to pay for their trip by approaching local organizations and businesses to help underwrite their expenses with donations.
The teens named their team “The Wakulla 4-H Disaster Masters” because they were introduced to disaster ready pantries and cooking techniques during the 4-H Community Emergency Response team (CERT) camp weeks held in summer 2021 and 2022. Wakulla County Extension Director Samantha Kennedy, who also serves as the Family and Consumer Science faculty member (otherwise known as agent), taught the youth basic principles of food safety while leading the youth to complete cooking activities with charcoal and propane.
Both teens were experienced 4-H members with leadership experience. Brooklynn joined 4-H as a seven year old Cloverbud. She joined the Chicken Champs Club in Sopchoppy led by Becton Roddenberry and said, “it was so much fun!” She credited her time in Teen CERT with teaching her how to calmly respond during disasters and to be ready to take charge in an emergency. She said, “ I love to cook. I help my mom lead a 4-H Cooking Club.” She offered this advice to youth who want to learn to cook, “cook the things you love!” Brooklynn shared one dish that she especially loves to cook is “creamy mushroom chicken. It has a creamy base sauce and sauteed mushrooms and spinach. It goes well with garlic bread and ravioli.”
During Brooklynn’s time in 4-H, she has been involved in Cooking Club, County and District Councils, as well as Chicken Club. She has also served as a day camp volunteer for the last two summers. She shared, “4-H has given me so many memories! My favorite memory would be spending the summer as a youth volunteer with my friends who were also part of my National Cooking Team.
Noah Pearson’s time with 4-H began in South Carolina at age 11 when he joined a shotgun club. After moving to Wakulla County, he joined the 4-H Shotgun Club and became active in County Council and Teen CERT. Over the past year, he has served on the 4-H State Executive Board and has been part of 4-H Day at the Capitol and 4-H University.
Noah credited the Teen CERT program with teaching him “to be adaptable as a cook. You cannot rely on a proper heat source for cooking during a disaster. You may need to use a fire or grill for cooking instead of an oven.” He shared that he loves to cook ramen noodles, mainly because he likes to eat them. He had this advice to offer other aspiring young cooks, “Start at home by helping your parents prepare meals. Learn by doing!”
Noah shared that choosing a single stand out memory of his time in 4-H is a challenge for him, “For me there is not just one. I have so many memories of 4-H. I really enjoy it when the younger members look up to me. I enjoy being a leader in the community, learning new things and spending time with friends.”
The Wakulla 4-H Disaster Masters traveled to Dallas for the National Competition the week of October 4 with their coaches Christy Pearson and Samantha Isaacs as well as 4-H agent Rachel Pienta. The Wakulla 4-H team was one of 11 teams that competed on the national level. While the youth were eliminated after the first round, both Noah and Brook say they came back with experience and knowledge they look forward to sharing with other 4-H members.
On December 7, 2022 4-H youth ages 8 to 18 are invited to participate in a Cooking Workshop at the UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension facility at 84 Cedar Avenue in Crawfordville from 5:30 to 8 PM. The workshop will include an opportunity to try the Cooking Challenge. RSVPs required. A $5 materials fee will be due at check in to offset the cost of supplies. Youth will be able to sample what they cook during the workshop. Not a 4-H member yet? There is still time to join 4-H for the 2022-23 program year! For more information or to RSVP, please contact 4-H agent Dr. Rachel Pienta at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-926-3931.
For additional information about the Florida 4-H Food Challenge, visit https://florida4h.ifas.ufl.edu/events/healthy-living-events/florida-4-h-food-challenge/.