Planning a 4-H exhibit wisely

It hardly seems possible, but we are beginning to get calls and emails from 4-H members about projects for county fair. Many members are planning food preservation projects for the fair. This is a great time of year to preserve food, especially canned foods. Many members choose to can jams or jellies, vegetables, fruit, and even meat.

Home food preservation has some stricter rules than other food products that you may want to exhibit. ALL home food preservation exhibits must be made using research based information. This includes the USDA canning guide, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publications (Preserve the Taste of Summer), anything from the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or their So Easy to Preserve book, a recent Ball Blue Book (or anything on their website). Additionally, the printed directions in a pectin package or Mrs. Wage’s products may be used. We do not consider old family recipes to be research based, nor recipes from the neighbor, church cookbooks, or Better Homes and Gardens or random websites.

It is important to remember that Pinterest by itself is not a resource. Pinterest is more like an index. Each Pinterest post connects to a website. If you follow the post back to the webpage, that would be your resource.

If you decide to prepare a baked product, the recipe does NOT need to be listed in an approved resource or research based. Cookbooks are great resources for recipes as the recipes listed in them have been tested to ensure the product turns out as expected. Recipes from random websites likely were not been tested and you may not end up with the product you expect. That does not mean you are not allowed to use these recipes, but you may wind up wasting time and ingredients.

There are some limits on what baked or cooked foods can be safely exhibited at a fair. We have a resource to help members know what products can be exhibited and what products may need to be prepared at home and photographed for entry to the fair. In the case of a food requiring refrigeration, like a pumpkin pie, it is fine to bake and taste at home. Bring only the write up and pictures. Since the judge will not see the pie, remember to make a very thorough write-up to take to the fair. This method works as long as the product is considered safe to eat normally. Making an unsafe product, such as using a water bath canner instead of a pressure canner for green beans can neither be exhibited at the fair nor exhibited through the use or a write-up with pictures.

Reports or posters on nutrition or the effects of a certain vitamin or mineral do need to use research-based information. It is important to provide accurate information when reporting to the public. Members will want to use the same effort to report on a nutrition topic as they would when writing a report for school.

This is only a short list of the mistakes it is easy for members to make when planning an exhibit for their County Fair. Remember that AnswerLine is only a phone call (1-800-262-3804) or email ( away. Contact us, we love to help.


Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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