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Edible Antics

Touring Wisconsin Food

Tag: 4-H clubs

Cake Decorating, Raising Animals, and Carnival Rides – Ways We Teach Children Life Skills

I think we trick our kids. We lure them with sweet flavors, bright colors, and creamy, soft textures to make them learn the hard skills life requires. At least, that was my impression after seeing the fun, elaborately-creative cake decorations on display at the Dane County Fair in Madison, WI. cake-decorating-1Children in 4-H clubs throughout the county competed for prize ribbons in cake decorating by artistically coating pieces of Styrofoam with colored frosting. The designs they painted on their simulated cakes, cookies, and cupcakes celebrate our life-changing moments and major holidays, -birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Halloween, harvest time, Christmas, and even April Fool’s Day -that day we play tricks on each other and laugh.cake-decorating-2

Recalling my own efforts to make King Lingonberry and a spiced nose cake made me appreciate the skills these children exercised in creating their masterpieces. First, the children had to choose the occasion they wished to celebrate and then look inward to tap their unique creativity. They needed to imagine, in fine detail, each colorful image they wished to paint. Then they had to plan exactly how to re-produce that image in frosting. Construction of the imagined final product had to be translated backward into a step-by-step series of actions. The tools needed to be gathered, – the workplace organized.

Then, for most, the hard work began. Any ease in seeing something gave way to the challenge of making it. Eyes, brain, muscles, hands, -the whole body had to coordinate its movements to precisely layer the frosting. Mistakes inevitably happened. Frustrated emotions were curbed and problem-solving practiced. How could the mistake be fixed? If it couldn’t, then how could the design be changed to turn the blemish into an asset? Distractions occurred and had to be ignored, -attention continually redirected to the task, hour after hour. Each child gave a day of his or her life to creating the Styrofoam cakes on display at the fair.

Elsewhere in the Exhibition Center and outside in the fairground barns, children were practicing other life skills. They were grooming and showing the animals they had spent months raising. Some children showed their pet cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs. Others showed commercial livestock, -their beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, lamas, goats, and poultry. The children were tested not only on the physical condition of their animals, but on their own skills in showmanship.

I watched the nervous intensity that the children focused on their animals,-readying them in the stalls, and showing them in the ring. This was serious business. Months of daily labor would be judged over the course of a few minutes.

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Food, Fun and Business at Wisconsin’s Lodi Fair

Remember in the children’s book, Charlotte’s Web, how the farm animals convinced Templeton the rat to accompany Wilbur to the fair? They painted a picture of fair grounds littered with food, -pieces of cakes, pies, corn dogs, caramel corn, and candy strewn across the field, trash cans brimming with half-full cups of root beer and lemonade. The hungry rat was irresistibly drawn to the fair by the food! But ‘most everyone else was drawn by the fun.

And fun was everywhere at the Lodi Agricultural Fair this past weekend in Lodi, Wisconsin. Yes, the traditional Wisconsin-fair treats of funnel cakes, elephant ears, home-baked pies, ice cream, fresh cheese curds, and grilled meats were abundant. Diners relaxed at picnic tables under a tent and listened to live music. The variety of entertainment, from rock-n-roll bands to polkas played on an accordion, offered something for everyone.

The easy, relaxed atmosphere of the Lodi Fair was punctuated by happy children thrilled on carnival rides, and hearkened back to earlier days in our American past. As in Wilbur and Charlotte’s day, the fair was free to enter and spread out over the large grassy field, between the baseball diamond and the old town hall.  Free rides on the wooden, hay wagon pulled by draft horses, Dick, Doris, and Doc, corralled the festival fun. 

As in olden days, the Lodi Fair serves an economic as well as a social function. Farmers and livestock buyers gather to exchange money for cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry. While waiting for auction, the animals are housed in shaded stalls and their owners sit in canvas, fold-up chairs next to them. The people set up camp, with coolers and card games, in the open-air barns, next to their prize animals which they raised from infancy. Ribbons won for size and shape are proudly tacked to the rafters and hang above the deserving animals. Outside, new models of farm equipment such as tractors, combines, and mowers stand on display. 

Yes, the purpose of today’s Lodi Fair is the same as the first Lodi Fair 146 years ago. The agricultural fair is the original form of our modern, professional conference. The fair is a central meeting ground for people in the agricultural business to exchange ideas, learn about new business practices and technologies, and form cooperative ventures. As in commercial trade shows, related-product vendors attend the fair to sell their wares.

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Kids Raise Food on the Farm in Wisconsin 4-H Clubs

“What are your kids doing for the summer?” -that’s the current question we parents are asking each other. It’s part of the research project parents do every May. For the past 10 days I have been comparing schedules, prices, and activities of various summer camps. I put this question to my friend, Jane Griswold, who works at Wisconsin’s Hoard’s Dairyman, and has three school-age children. Jane said that for the past several years, her kids have enjoyed the Cross Plains 4-H Club activities.

4-H clubs began forming throughout the United States in the early 1900’s. Their original purpose was to educate youth in research-based, agricultural practices and technologies. Today’s clubs emphasize leadership and problem-solving as they guide kids in hands-on projects ranging from the Arts and Communication, to Animal Sciences, Mechanical Sciences, Natural Resources, Plant and Soil Sciences, Family, Home and Health, and Community Involvement. Central to the 4-H mission is development of the good citizen. Today, 6.5 million young people pledge: “my HEAD to clearer thinking, my HEART to greater loyalty, my HANDS to larger service, and my HEALTH to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.” And does participation in 4-H clubs foster self-confident, independent, successful citizens? National research studies say ‘Yes’.

For their 4-H summer projects, the Griswold children will be raising livestock which they will show at the Wisconsin, Dane County Fair in July. Jane explained that she and her husband, Tim, grew up on Wisconsin farms. They bought a small farm so their children will learn the valuable lessons farm-life teaches, – lessons learned from being responsible for the care of other creatures, whether these creatures be animals or plants. Accepting responsibility for another life-form teaches life’s lessons of hard-work, self-discipline, independence, problem-solving, and self-lessness. As all care-givers learn, “it’s not about you! – It’s about the one who needs you.” Or, put another way, “Love isn’t how you feel about someone; it’s how you treat them no matter how you feel.”

Jane and Tim want their children, Kate (14), Sara (12), and James (9), to understand their place in the natural cycles of life, – particularly, life’s most essential cycle, -the cycle of food. By nourishing plants and animals, we people sustain ourselves. Some of the most prevalent lifeforms on this planet: corn, beans, rice, cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens, are those which nourish humans and are therefore nourished by humans. We need each other. And out of this mutual need, grows respect. How does a parent teach a child to respect the planet? – one life at a time.

The animals come to the Griswold barn after they are weaned. Then each child assumes care of one or more animals, although the siblings routinely help each other. Kate cares for 5 pigs, – Lollipop, Skittles, Reeses, Snickers, and Twix. Her banner at the fair will read, “Pork is a sweet deal!”  Kate also cares for and will show some ewes (female sheep) at the fair. Sara is responsible for Angel, a gentle but rambunctious, jersey dairy cow. Next year, Angel will have a calf and join a dairy herd. James cares for Rocket, a Black Angus steer who presently outweighs James by roughly 900 pounds. Rocket is so named because “he must grow like a rocket to make weight for the fair.” He gains about 2-3 pounds per day from the roughly 30 pounds/day of food James feeds him.   

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