CANANDAIGUA — Seven-year-old Riley Winum wrinkled his brow as he measured candy corn into a cup, then carefully poured it into a plastic bag.
He briefly paused to consult the recipe card on the table in front of him before doing the same with raisins, peanuts and Cheerios cereal. With a look of intense concentration on his face, he then poured chocolate-covered pretzels into another bag and crushed them with a rolling pin before adding them to his mixture to make Fall Snack Mix. As he did so, Riley glanced every so often at the woman in front of him who was jotting notes on a clipboard.
Riley was one of the more than 30 young participants in the Ontario County 4-H Program’s Harvest Food Fest, which was held Nov. 19 at Ontario County Cornell Cooperative Extension in Canandaigua. The program drew 4-Hers from 13 different clubs, including seven members of the Rising Stars 4-H Club of St. Mary School in Canandaigua, which is now in its second year.
The budding chefs who took part in the Harvest Food Fest each chose one recipe to prepare in front of a room full of people, including evaluators. They brought all the ingredients they needed, as well as mixing bowls, utensils, and measuring cups and spoons. They prepared their recipes at demonstration tables set up throughout the room, but stopped just short of actually cooking their creations. Instead, they brought already-cooked examples of their finished products, which they brought to a table at the back of the room. There, another team of evaluators sampled their creations and asked them some questions about what they learned. Small samples of their finished products also were placed on a nearby tasting table for others to enjoy.
"The focus is on preparation of recipes highlighting at least one cup of a New York-produced ingredient," said Suzanne Pohorence, leader of the Rising Stars and second-grade teacher at St. Mary. "Harvest Food Fest is an excellent way for children to become comfortable demonstrating to an audience and speaking to a judge to express their understanding of New York state’s products and methods of cooking."
Harvest Food Fest participants must research the local ingredients they’ve chosen to focus on, which can range from grapes or apples to maple syrup or beef, added Jennifer Jensen, 4-H educator with Ontario County 4-H. They use their research to create poems, posters or other ways of expressing what they’ve learned, she added.
"They have to show the evaluators that they’ve learned some information other than just baking. They get evaluated, but it’s just for positive reinforcement. It’s not for a blue ribbon or anything" Jensen said.
The Harvest Food Fest helps participants get used to being in front of an audience and presenting without the added pressure of remembering an oral presentation, she added.
"This ultimately is a stepping-stone event to prepare children to participate in Public Presentations held in January, where the children will have to speak on a chosen topic to an audience and be judged on their public-speaking skills," Pohorence said.
A former 4-Her herself, Pohorence is a veteran of Public Presentations and numerous other 4-H activities, and her positive experiences with the program inspired her to open up those opportunities to students at St. Mary.
"I always wanted to give back to the 4-H program and the school I teach in, so when I saw the need for another extracurricular activity at my school that was not sports-related, I jumped on the opportunity," Pohorence said.
The Rising Stars 4-H Club is open to St. Mary students in the second through eighth grades, and this year the club has 11 members, Pohorence said. Rising Stars members work on projects related to such diverse topics as food and nutrition, environmental awareness, fibers and textiles, woodworking, astronomy, public speaking and small-animals studies, and they also participate in community-service projects, she said.
Ten-year-old Mara Jankowski, a fifth-grader at St. Mary, said the cooking projects have been her favorite part of Rising Stars so far. Riley, a second-grader at St. Mary, said he enjoys spending time with his friends and learning new things during club meetings. Riley’s sister, fourth-grader Rose Winum, said she wanted to join Rising Stars because her dad was in 4-H when he was a kid and had told her how much fun he had.
Seventh-grader James Martino, 12, said he likes the cooking projects and also enjoys building things with the 4-H group. His brother, third-grader Jeffery Martino, said he likes the projects related to recycling and helping the environment, but he was a bit hesitant about joining the club at first.
"My mom signed me up. I didn’t really think it would be fun at first, but I found out it was really fun," said Jeffery, 9.