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Event helps students develop public speaking skills in a fun atmosphere.

Saoimanu Sope, Communications specialist

February 26, 2024

4 Min Read
4-H student chefs
4-H members participating in Cupcake Wars are tasked with decorating cupcakes according to a certain theme and presenting them to judges.UCANR

Inside a quiet classroom, Sadie, a 4-H member in Orange County, stands in front of two judges with an insulated cooler bag in hand. From it she pulls out plates, utensils and napkins and sets them down on the table. She unzips the bottom compartment and carefully reaches for a cast iron platter with golden fluffy pancakes piled on top.

“Would you like syrup with your pancakes? I highly recommend it,” said Sadie, an eighth grader who is participating in the annual 4-H Food Fiesta for a second time.

4-H, a youth development program supported by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and administered through local UC Cooperative Extension offices, promotes hands-on experiential learning for all youth.

Rita Jakel, 4-H program coordinator for Orange County, described the Food Fiesta event – intended for ages 5 to 18 – as an opportunity to practice and showcase public speaking skills through a fun, food-related competition.

Youth present their creations before a panel of evaluators, who ask them to describe how they prepared the dish and why, and how they managed challenges throughout the process. The interaction between youth and adult leaders provides a unique opportunity for youth to practice career readiness skills such as job interviews and public speaking.

This year's theme was “Super Carbolicious” and 4-H participants were encouraged to make their favorite dishes using ingredients like pasta, potatoes and bread. Carbohydrates are often perceived as unhealthy, which is not a helpful mindset to have when teaching youth about nutrition. Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is converted into energy that people need to function throughout the day.

Some of the dishes that were presented during the Food Fiesta included chocolate chip banana bread, cheesy baked potatoes, cookies and Nutella-stuffed crepes. 4-H member Kaitlin had only ever attended the Food Fiesta to cheer on a friend. This year, she decided to participate and presented pumpkin macaroni and cheese as her entry.

“Pumpkin mac and cheese is better than the regular one because there's a lot more flavor and you have to use two cheeses: cheddar and parmesan,” explained Kaitlin, a seventh grader. When asked what motivated her to participate instead of a being a bystander this time around, Kaitlin said that she wanted to work on her presentation skills.

“Usually, I'm a bit shy and I don't like to share that much. The Food Fiesta helped me practice speaking up more so that I can accomplish my goals,” Kaitlin said. 

Sadie, who loves public speaking, admits that it wasn't always a strength of hers. “There was a time when I hated public speaking. But when I joined 4-H's cake decorating, poultry and food fiesta events, I got more comfortable with public speaking,” she said. “Now, I like going to events and showing off. I get to show off turkeys, my cakes and, today, I presented homemade pancakes.”

4-H ambassadors

Helping to keep the day's festivities running smoothly were two 4-H state ambassadors: Michaela and Laurelyn, two high school seniors. Both have been involved in 4-H for over nine years, with Laurelyn being a third-generation 4-H member. “My grandmother grew up in a 4-H club in Orange County. She still raises breeding lambs for 4-H members to this day,” said Laurelyn, whose mother was a 4-H member in San Joaquin County.

As state ambassadors, they are responsible for creating and presenting workshops during state, national and regional events. “We also engage the public via social media, specifically TikTok and Instagram (@4horangeco),” said Michaela, who is in her second year as an ambassador.

During the Food Fiesta, Michaela and Laurelyn made themselves available to answer questions from participants and their families. Both ambassadors agreed that seeing parents involved in 4-H should not come as a surprise. “Being in 4-H is a family effort. This isn't an extra-curricular where you just drop your kids off and leave,” said Michaela.

Laurelyn shared that the biggest misconception others have about 4-H is that they think it's about introducing youth to agriculture or livestock. There's a civic engagement and leadership component to it, too. “If parents knew about all the ways 4-H can benefit their kids, I think more people would want to join us,” she said. “And they're finding fun ways to help us learn life skills, like this Food Fiesta.”

The homemade dishes weren't the only thing to look forward to, however. In another building, Sandy Jacobs, volunteer event coordinator, and her team set up a kitchen quiz for members. On several tables, there were different cooking tools and participants were challenged to name as many tools as they could.

In another classroom, while some members were presenting food, others presented their themed table setting décor. Participants had to prepare a complete table setting entry including a menu card, centerpiece and table settings for two. Judges considered creativity, use of color, table setting etiquette, knowledge in talking to the judges, and appearance in their evaluation.

Finally, to wrap up the day, members competed in a cupcake decorating competition. Participants were responsible for bringing their own supplies including tools and edible decorations for Cupcake Wars. Depending on their age group, participants had 20 minutes to decorate two to four cupcakes, each of a different theme.

To learn more about 4-H in Orange County, visit https://oc4h.org/.

Source: University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

About the Author(s)

Saoimanu Sope

Communications specialist, University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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