Archive for Thursday, August 8, 2002

The fruits of the labor

4-H’ers display hard work

August 8, 2002

For an age group notoriously averse to vegetables, some Eudora children and teens know an awful lot about the food.

"Okra is supposed to only be two or three inches," said eighth-grader Mary Cox. "It depends a lot on what a consumer would want."

Before Mary and other budding vegetable-growers entered their 4-H projects at last week's Douglas County Fair, they had to follow a book outlining the guidelines for displaying the fare.

"You have to trim the stem to a certain length," Mary said.

Mary's brother Jacob, a seventh-grader, entered the garden display category, in which the judges look at style and substance simultaneously.

"You show five of your best vegetables," Jacob said. "You can put it in a basket or on a table cloth or have decorations with it.

"I took a beaded basket, and I put a table cloth on it. They were kind of green, and they had little clovers on it. It didn't actually take that long."

Knowing the ins and outs of vegetables and fruits comes in handy in another 4-H category, which has the kids doing the judging.

"The judging isn't that hard, because you just have to form an opinion, but you have to know what they're looking for," Jacob said.

In one competition, 4-H'ers have to pick the best tomato of four, and its not always the one a consumer might pick out at the grocery store.

"You count a cut lower than a tomato that looks bad, because the cut will rot sooner," Jacob said.

Because of the nature of the competition, the 4-H'ers have to plan their entries far enough in advance to make certain they're grown in time, which can mean sewing seeds as far ahead as three months before the fair.

Mary said competitors had to decide far in advance which area of the competitions they would enter but could wait until later to decide the specific category based on how their vegetables grew.

"It's kind of hard, because you don't know which vegetables are going to do good," Mary said. "You have to throw away the entries that didn't do good. (This year) our vegetables are really dry and bug-eaten."

Yet the projects require more than planting some seeds and forgetting about them.

"We do fertilize them," she said. "You have to do a lot of maintenance with them. We check them every day. On our little tomato plants, we put cups over them."

The garden display contest had 4-H'ers showing of the more aesthetic contents of the garden, like competitions for single stem annuals and perennials, and floral arrangements.

"One of my favorites is the egg carton garden where you take a recycled egg carton and you put plants in there to grow," Mary said. "As long as it stays small, the judges like it."

Although the horticulture categories may have more to do with gathering than hunting, that's not so with other competitions, like several Jacob entered. For shooting sports, Jacob has made a notebook outlining an archery contest he entered and a notebook about a turkey hunt he and his father took.

Jacob and Mary have both participated in forestry, which has 4-H'ers hunting down leaves from a variety of trees native to Kansas.

"I already had about 30, so it was really hard (finding more)," Jacob said.

The geology contest took him to Linwood, Cherokee County and Kanopolis Lake.

"There's leaders, and they will go there on separate field trips and they'll look around and see what you can find," Jacob said.

Because many of the 4-H competitions have the members putting together posters or notebooks about their projects, they get a lesson in organization, as well as learning a few things along the way.

"This year I did the acorns of each oak tree, and (the poster) shows the differences," Mary said. "It's really interesting. Most people don't know about that. I didn't know about that until last year."

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