Food and nutrition projects are growing, thanks to Extension’s judges, volunteers, donors and curious young minds
Hannah Meyer, 18, always brings a 4-H food project to the Faribault County Fair. Last year it was Hawaiian chicken tacos. With lean chicken, cabbage, carrots and pineapple, Hannah says, “I was shocked how it all came together and was so nutritious.”
It’s that kind of enthusiasm that Wendy Nickel of Kiester, Minn., wants to see everywhere in 4-H food and nutrition programs. A retired high school family and consumer science teacher, Nickel gives back by judging 4-H projects at several county fairs and the Minnesota State Fair.
Hannah says 4-H judges like Nickel make it a conversation back and forth. “They ask questions and share their own knowledge on what could help make the recipe better so I can build on that,” says Hannah. “I took my judging experience with me when I interviewed for a job and it made me calmer, more prepared and better able to receive input.”
Michelle Klinkner, 4-H youth development educator in Faribault County, values the people who share their knowledge and passion. “Wendy likes to be there for the kids,” she says. “All of our parents and volunteers — if we reach out to them, they always pick up the phone.”
“Whether it’s a food project — like Christopher and James Murray with their maple syrup and jams, or Kaitlyn Smith with her pastries — or livestock, photography or any other project, talented adults trained in experiential learning help young people grow,” adds Klinkner.
Understanding the foods we eat
Lauran Arndt, 10, a member of the Danielson Hustlers 4-H Club in Meeker County, wants to pursue an arts career. She also enjoys “helping my grandma make chicken and peas or green beans.”
Lauran grows her skills in both fine arts and cooking through 4-H. On a recent 4-H Food Day on the Meeker County fairgrounds in Litchfield, Lauran joined other youth in making cheese. Jennifer Schiefelbein, a 4-H volunteer with a master’s degree in food science, simplified the activity so youth could make ricotta quickly, while not skipping over the scientific processes, such as the interactions between proteins and acids that result in delicious cheese.
“We talked about taste: salty and sour, for example, and a lesser-known taste called umami, which some might call savory,” says Schiefelbein. “We talked about how heat and even color can affect our perceptions.”
“It was pretty fun and pretty interesting,” says Lauran.
Lanette Holmquist, another volunteer, is Lauran’s grandma. “I knew it would be something she would like because she cooks, but this actually examined the science behind food,” she says. “Kids need these activities in the summer.”
Green is groovy
Not many children would think of serving “groovy green smoothies” at their birthday party. But that’s just what one 4-H’er did in Lincoln County after a lesson on vegetables like spinach.
4-H health and nutrition projects entice young minds to learn about nutrients, cooking and baking, skills for healthy eating, and analyzing food labels — all topics that can lead to college and career ideas.
“The goal of our food and nutrition programming is to give kids good information in a hands-on and exciting way that they can apply to their lives, whether it’s when they get home that night or 20 years from now,” says Michele Van Dyke, a 4-H youth development educator in Lincoln County. “We are always looking for more ways to keep 4-H’ers interested in food.”
Wendy Nickel and her husband Don say that 4-H helped them decide what college degrees and careers to pursue.
“Projects that I took in 4-H really helped me to decide that I wanted to pursue a degree in home economics,” says Wendy. Likewise, Don’s experiences in 4-H steered him toward an agriculture degree, which eventually led to a career in banking and agricultural finance. He is now a retired executive from First State Bank, a former high school agriculture teacher, and a U of M College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) alum.
Their experiences have made them deeply supportive of Extension’s 4-H youth development program and the University. They’re making a generous gift, aimed at funding 4-H programming in food and nutrition across southern Minnesota, a new scholarship for 4-H youth from southern Minnesota pursuing a food and agriculture degree, and an agricultural scholarship for a CFANS student.
Wendy says she has enjoyed seeing the projects through the years and hearing about what 4-H’ers have learned: “Sometimes I’m just simply blown away with what teenagers have done.”