Tips for Writing 4-H Exhibit Goals

Iowa County and 4-H Fairs will soon be in full swing. For some families, that means crunch time to get 4-H projects ready for exhibit. Besides the project, members must also complete a 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet for each of their static projects. When the goal sheet is hastily written or not well thought out, the goal sheet can become a detriment rather than a support to the project. The goal sheet is usually written but may be submitted as a video or a voice recording. 4-H members can use a standard form or create their own. Regardless of presentation, the three parts (questions) must be answered.

The three parts of the exhibit goal sheet include the following:

  • exhibit goal – first and perhaps the most important,
  • explanation of steps taken to reach the goal,
  • learning experiences acquired while doing the project, as stated in the goal.

The goal is the road map helping one plan how to get where they want to go or directions for arriving at a destination. In the same way one may reach a destination using Google, maps or a navigator tool before starting to drive, the goal should lead to the finished project. Therefore, the goal must be known at the start of the project so that the steps and learning experiences result in the project being evaluated.

So what makes a strong goal?

  • Goals have three parts—ACTION (what one wants to do)—RESULT (what one is going to do)—TIMETABLE (when one plans to do it or have it done).
  • Goals should pass the “control test.”  Does the 4-H member have control over the outcome of the goal, or does someone else have that control?
  • Goals should be appropriate for the age and experience level of the 4-H member.
  • Goals should be S.M.A.R.T. or SENSIBLE – MEASURABLE – ATTAINABLE – REALISTIC – TIMELY. Of the five S.M.A.R.T. parts, MEASURABLE jumps out as the part allowing a 4-H member to evaluate their project and see growth. Measurable is also important to the 4-H judge in evaluating the project.

Here are some examples of goals and their strength.

Action Result Timetable Pass Control Test S.M.A. R. T. Strong Goal
I want to make a poster. None Yes Not Measurable No
I want to learn how to tie 5 knots and display them at the county fair. Yes Yes Yes
I want to earn a blue ribbon on my photo at the fair. No Not Measurable No
I want to sew a pillow for my room before my birthday. Yes Yes Yes
I want to make a favorite family treat None Maybe Not Measurable No
I want to learn how to make strawberry jam when the strawberries are in season. Yes Yes Yes

Learning to set goals is an essential life skill to develop. Goals should change and become more challenging each year to show growth in a project. For more information on strong goals for the 4-H Exhibit Sheet, check out a great video on setting goals. And after a great goal is in place, check out Tips for Completing the 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Safe Frosting for Iowa 4-H Fairs

The most recent edition of Foods for Iowa 4-H Fairs – Quick Reference Guide (Current Year) now includes a tested, homemade buttercream frosting that is safe and acceptable for baked goods exhibited or displayed at Iowa 4-H fairs. Identifying a safe “buttercream frosting” recipe for exhibit has been a source of confusion for 4-H members and their families as well as County Extension Educators and fair judges. Store-bought, commercially prepared frostings that are shelf stable are also acceptable for food product exhibits. 

Food products exhibited at 4-H Fairs must be shelf stable or stable (non-perishable) at room temperature and not require refrigeration to be safe. Due to the various ingredients and quantities that may be incorporated into a homemade frosting, many frostings require refrigeration to be unquestionably safe. Three factors play a role in determining the safety of a frosting: acidity (pH), water activity (Aw), and percent of soluble solids (%Brix).

The acidity (pH) of a frosting is affected by the ingredients used. Traditional frostings made with dairy or eggs tend to increase pH making them more basic than acidic and susceptible to spoilage. Therefore, frosting made with cream cheese, whipped cream, or eggs requires refrigeration to inhibit spoilage and molding despite the fact that frostings are laden with sugar, known for its ability to inhibit microbial growth.  

Water activity (Aw) is the measure of available water in a food product that can support microbial growth and affect the quality and safety of food. This differs from moisture content which refers to water bound to ingredients within the food. The FDA has established that a water activity (Aw) value greater than 0.85 on a scale of 0 (bone dry) – 1.0 (pure water) indicates a high-risk food product capable of facilitating the growth of microorganisms in the product. Sugar may lower the Aw while water or dairy can increase the Aw; fat has no effect on Aw

Percent soluble solids (%Brix) in a frosting is determined by the amount of sugar available to bind up the available water to reduce bacterial growth. As %Brix increases, Aw decreases.

Due to these factors, frostings are considered TCS, foods that require either temperature or time control for food safety. TCS foods may allow pathogens to grow and possibly produce toxins when held at temperatures between 41-135 degrees F. (For additional information see: Food Safety of Frostings and Fillings by K-State Research and Extension.) To be considered a non-TCS food, the percent soluble solids (%Brix) must be above 65% and the Aw value less than 0.85.1

There are numerous recipes for buttercream frosting. It is not a given that all buttercream frostings meet the %Brix and Aw requirements to be a non-TCS food or safe without refrigeration. To determine the safety of a vanilla buttercream frosting for Iowa 4-H exhibits, three members of the AnswerLine team prepared an adapted version of the Simple Buttercream Frosting tested and considered stable at room temperature by K-State Research and Extension. Milk (dairy) was substituted for heavy cream in the K-State recipe. The frostings were prepared at the individual homes of the team members using the same butter and powdered sugar; the percent of milk fat and vanilla extract were the two variables. The three samples were submitted to the Iowa State University Food Quality and Safety Laboratory for analysis of water activity and %Brix with results shown in the table below.

Table 1.  Average water activity and % soluble solids of frostings tested.

SampleWater Activity% Soluble Solids
Sample 1 – Skim milk0.788± 0.00368.60 ± 0.30
Sample 2 – 2% Milk0.812 ± 0.00467.83 ± 0.23
Sample 3 – Whole Milk0.808 ± 0.00667.17 ± 0.35

All three samples met the requirements of a non-TCS food as recommended by K-State Research and Extension exhibiting an average Brix of 67.87% and an Aw value of 0.803.

Tested Vanilla Buttercream recipe ingredients. Photo credit: Rachel Sweeney

Tested Vanilla Buttercream Recipe
 Required for use with Iowa 4-H Fair Food Product Exhibits.
(All Iowa 4-Hers must reference this blog in their
write-up for full credit if a homemade frosting is used in the exhibit. Any change or addition of ingredients will be unacceptable and will result in disqualification.)

1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
4 cups powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons dairy milk (skim, 2%, or whole)

Beat the butter, salt, and vanilla together until fully combined on medium speed. Reduce speed and add the powdered sugar and milk. Add the milk a teaspoon at a time to achieve the right consistency for the way you want to use the frosting. DO NOT use more than 2 tablespoons of milk.  Slowly increase the speed of the mixer and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy. 

What Does This Mean for Iowa 4-H Food Products?

  • It is highly suggested that exhibits be presented without frosting unless the frosting is part of the exhibit goal.

Example 1:  My goal is to bake an angel food cake for exhibit at the fair.
No frosting is needed for this exhibit. Cake recipe should be included with the exhibit.

Example 2*: My goal is to bake and frost a chocolate cake for my Dad’s birthday. I will also exhibit a similar cake and frosting at the fair.
Cake should be frosted with the tested vanilla buttercream frosting or with a commercially prepared frosting to assure that it is not a TCS food. No chocolate, cocoa, or other ingredient should be added to the tested recipe or commercial frosting. Recipe for cake and frosting (if homemade) should be included with the exhibit, along with this blog. 

Example 3*: My goal is to learn to make a cake and a frosting for exhibit at the fair.
Cake should be frosted with the tested vanilla buttercream frosting; no chocolate, cocoa, or other ingredient should be added to the tested recipe. Cake and frosting recipes, along with this blog, should be included with exhibit. 

*For examples 2 and 3, another option is to prepare the product using any frosting desired; before serving, take pictures of the frosted product. Exhibit the product without frosting at the fair and note in the write up that the product is being exhibited without frosting due to food safety concerns. Add pictures of the frosted product to the write up and include the product recipe with the exhibit.

  • Homemade Cream Cheese, German Chocolate or Coconut-Pecan, Ganache, or 7-Minute frostings or fillings are not to be exhibited at the fair. They are potential TCS foods due to the range of water activity (Aw) in various recipes and should be stored in the refrigerator.
  • Decorator frostings of any type may be used when the goal is to decorate a cake. The cake may be food, cardboard, or Styrofoam and will be judged on design, neatness, originality, skill, and technique; the cake will not be tasted or judged on product characteristics. 
  • Fresh or canned fruit, vegetable, or zest should not be used as decoration or garnish on a baked product or decorated cake.
  • When a glaze is desired, it should be made with powdered sugar and water only. No fruit juice or zest should be added.

Plan ahead for a successful fair experience. 4-H members are encouraged to call or email AnswerLine with questions about their food project prior to exhibit. 

Call:  1-800-262-3804 or 515-296-5883, M-F 9-12, 1-4
Relay Iowa (hearing impaired) 1-800-735-2942
Email:  answer@iastate.edu

_________________________________
Food Safety of Frostings and Fillings – MF3544, K-State Research and Extension

By Shannon Coleman, Associate Professor and State Extension Specialist, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University; Terri Boylston, Associate Professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University; Marlene Geiger, Beth Marrs, and Rachel Sweeney, Consumer Specialists AnswerLine, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach;  Karen Blakeslee, Extension Associate, Kansas State University Research and Extension.  February 2023.

Updated December 2023, mg.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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May Day

May Day is celebrated on May 1.  It is an old day of celebration dating back to the Roman Republic.  Over its many years, there have been different meanings, festivities, and representations of May Day. Beginning as a day marked with ceremonies, dances, and feasting, it celebrated the rite of spring.  It also marks the half way point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solace.  In addition, it has been known as Workers’ Day or International Workers’ Day, a day commemorating the historic struggles and gains made by workers and labors.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, May Day traditions changed to leaving a gift basket filled with flowers or treats at the front door of a neighbor, friend, or loved one.  The giver would leave a basket or cone of treats, ring the doorbell, shout “‘May Basket!” and run away.  In some communities, hanging a May basket on someone’s door was a chance to express romantic interest.  If the recipient caught the giver, he or she was entitled to a kiss.  It has also been celebrated with dancing and singing around a pole laced with streamers or ribbons.  During my grade school days, we made May Day baskets filled with homemade treats, candy, or dandelions to exchange with school mates.

Today, May Day is almost forgotten. The sentiment of the day certainly has a place in modern society as a time to share a random act of kindness and celebrate spring and friendship—an opportunity to pay it forward. Baskets don’t necessarily have to be left at a front door.  Treats can be left for co-workers, teachers, children—anyone—anywhere they will find it.

There are numerous ideas for baskets online—paper cones, styrofoam cups, fabric, tin cans, strawberry baskets—anything goes. And, who says baskets have to be filled with flowers, candy or treats?  Don’t limit yourself.  Use imagination and creativity.  Baskets can be filled with anything appropriate for the recipient.  For example, the homeless may appreciate baskets filled with bath products, socks, non-perishable snacks or gift cards. Baskets for others could be filled with small office supplies, seed packets, cooking utensils, hair accessories, or craft supplies. The ideas are endless.  Add a little treat to brighten someone’s day with a piece of candy, a flower, or a pop of color with a piece of tissue paper.  And if making a basket isn’t for you, maybe buy a cup of coffee for a random stranger and wish them a Happy May Day. Get the kids involved; make it family activity or a youth group project (4-H, Scouts, Church).

So make a basket, ring the doorbell, and run! Spread some kindness! You’ll be glad you did! Happy May Day!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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September is National Sewing Month

September is National Sewing Month!  “Sew” it “seams” we should take time to honor the history of sewing and celebrate those who enjoy this art form or craft.  National Sewing Month was first celebrated in 1982 after President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation “in recognition of the importance of home sewing to our Nation.” 

While sewing might imply the use of a sewing machine, it encompasses the many ways of stitching with thread and needle—garments, home décor, embroidery, needlepoint, cross-stitch, quilting, and all other forms of drawing a thread and needle through a medium. Sewing is both a skill and a creative hobby enjoyed by millions of people from all walks of life around the world.

The art of sewing dates back to 25,000 B.C.E. when sewing was used to make clothing and shelter. Early materials consisted mostly of hides from animals and plant leaves. Thin strips of animal hide or long fibers drawn from plants made the first threads with bone and ivory being the first forms of needles.  Thomas Saint is credited with the invention of the sewing machine in 1750 followed by Isaac Singer’s prototype in 1851 that was to become the basis for the mechanization of sewing and the standard for the modern sewing machines we have today.  Prior to the 19th century, sewing was done by hand which allowed for perfecting skills as well as developing techniques for creative and decorative stitching.

Sewing has long been a favorite hobby of mine beginning with creations made with fabric scraps, thread, and needle for my dolls.  After my great-grandmother taught me to use her treadle machine, I turned out creations in mass.  As a 4-H member I enjoyed learning to use my mother’s electric machine and a pattern to fashion clothing for myself.  Each year was a new project with new skills.  That love of creating with fabric and a desire to understand fibers and fabrics led to my eventual college major.  While I never worked in the textile industry as I once envisioned, the skills and knowledge have given me a hobby and creative outlet that I still enjoy today.  And by joining with friends in guilds, I have learned and enjoyed many other forms of stitchery that have furthered by love of thread and needle. 

While we may recognize the skill and creative form of self-expression that sewing provides in the month of September, it is enjoyed all year.  During this month, there is a long list of retailers, bloggers, organizations, and others that promote “sewing” in an attempt to renew interest, share ideas, inspire, and teach.  If one was ever inclined to pick up thread and needle and try some form of sewing, the time to start is now. Creating quilts, clothing and other masterpieces not only develop new skills, but personal satisfaction, too. Sewing is a pleasurable activity to enjoy solo or with friends.  Happy sewing!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tips for Completing the 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet

The 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet is part of each static project that 4-H members prepare for the fair.  The goal sheet is usually in written form, but may be submitted as a video or a voice recording.  4-H members can use a standard form or create their own.  Regardless of presentation, the three parts (questions) must be answered. The three parts to the exhibit goal sheet include:

  • exhibit goal – first and perhaps the most important,
  • explanation of steps taken to reach the goal,
  • learning experiences acquired while doing the project as stated in the goal.

A previous blog addressed the “What was your exhibit goal?” question and how to write a great goal.  This blog will be about the remaining two parts (steps and learning) or questions, “What steps did you take to learn or do this?” and “What were the most important things that you learned.”

What steps did you take to learn or do this?

Here is where the 4-H member lays out the path that was taken to get from the goal to the finished project.  It can be communicated step by step or told in story form.  At any rate, it should be thoughtful and thorough so that the reader can follow the procedure and understand what has been done.  Pictures showing the steps or the project in progress are helpful but are NOT REQUIRED.  If the project is a baked product, the recipe must be included and the source identified (cookbook name, magazine, or website).  If the recipe came from a relative or friend, give their name.

What were the most important things that you learned?

Here is where the 4-H member reflects back on their project and shares all that was learned.  The learning might even include something that didn’t go well or that they would do differently another time.  It may be about trial and error or problem solving.  It may include discoveries that were made in the course of completing the project or some research that was done. Here is were the member can also include the identified elements and principles of design if they are required for the project.  Remember, the learning should come from the project goal.

The 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet form is available from the County Extension Offices.  However, the forms do not have to be used as long as the three questions are answered.  Regardless of how it is done, the goal sheet should support the project that is exhibited.  The goal sheet should be typed or neatly written by hand so that it looks as professional as possible.  Be sure to proofread.

For more help in answering these two questions, check out this great video.  A thoughtfully prepared 4-H Exhibit Goal Sheet is the final step in putting together a great project for exhibit at the fair.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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