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Edible education

Students at Tharptown High School are cooking up something good.

New this year, 4-H Culinary has allowed 4-H students in seventh through 12th grades – about 100 of them – to flex their foodie muscles and learn to prepare delicious dishes. Susan Hill, regional extension agent for food safety and quality, helps to coordinate the program, aided by extension coordinator Katernia Cole-Coffey and 4-H agent Stephanie Crandell.

“We want them to be able to do more hand-on activities,” Cole-Coffey said. Of paramount importance is an attempt to change students’ typical associations with 4-H – namely, that it’s only for people who want to raise cows, chickens, pigs or other livestock. There’s more to 4-H than pre-conceived notions.

“We are to provide hands-on learning for these kids. This is hands-on learning,” Cole-Coffey said.

The culinary program is in its infancy, with this being the inaugural year and 4-H Culinary only being offered at Tharptown. THS is a prime choice for a program like this, Cole-Coffey said, because the school does not have agri-science or family and consumer science programs. “We thought this would be a good way to incorporate home economics,” Cole-Coffey said. They do hope, however, to eventually expand 4-H Culinary into other schools in the county.

The 4-H Culinary program has been held roughly once a month during the 2015-2016 school year. Wednesday, for February’s session, students learned to prepare Valentine’s Day-inspired treats they can make for their families – cucumber sandwiches, mini brownie trifles, chocolate-covered pretzels, chocolate Musketeer dip, strawberry fluff dip with pretzels and bacon cheddar tortilla roll-ups.

Dips and other basic recipes are automatic choices, since Tharptown lacks a full, functioning kitchen – or even an oven or stovetop. Students are mainly assigned dishes that require either no cooking or that can be made using a hot plate, slow cooker or microwave.

“We’re hoping next year, maybe, to have some convection ovens to bring in,” Crandell said.

Of course, students are learning more than “just” cooking with 4-H Culinary. The culinary-focused classes encourage communication and cooperation among the students in each group – a benefit 4-H sponsor Derek Ergle likes to zero in on. “It gives the kids an opportunity to work together as a group to create something they’re not used to creating. It’s a great learning experience, and that’s going to help them in the future,” he said. Following directions, Ergle added, is another skill students are honing through this program.

“It even incorporates math skills – because they have to do fractions – and literacy,” Principal Barry Laster pointed out.

Program coordinators are hopeful that 4-Culinary will open doors for some of these students – like inspiring them to become caterers, restaurant chefs, celebrity chefs, or even just to seek a Cottage Food Law License to be able to sell food items at the local farmer’s market.

“This is just fun,” Hill added. “They don’t even realize they’re learning.”

The next project for 4-H at Tharptown? A student-run greenhouse – coming soon.