This year a new project in geology called "Can you dig it?" already has three participants here in Huron County, according to the Ag Extension Office. They listed a STEM-related project on robots, plus a miscellany of small engines, money management, a natural world category, photography, and bee-keeping to give a taste of project scope.
John Fabery of the Hartland Progressive Farmers 4-H Club has been taking cooking projects for five years, along with raising rabbits and doing photography. He is one of many members who often have two, three, or four irons in the fire, you might say, who have ambition to spare and are participating in a judging event around every corner. He just returned from showing in two events at the Ohio State Fair.
Asked how he chose his current "You're the Chef" cooking project, John thought about it before he replied.
"I was baking way before I was in 4-H. Funny thing why I got into cooking I was baking in my free time, way back, so I just decided to roll with it. Every November I do pumpkin rolls to sell. My dad's boss buys them." Fabery remembers watch cooking shows on TV from a very young age.
Fabery makes his own batter from scratch, puts pumpkin in the cake. His filling is a mix of butter, cream cheese and powdered sugar. He likes to make a long roll, rather than the rectangular one recipes recommend. "Just for fun," he quips.
Foods in his first project, "Quick Breads," included strawberry bread, pumpkin bread, biscuits with strawberries for shortcake. He found it a fun and interesting way of learning how to use substitutes such as applesauce for sugar and how sugar complements salt.
Two years of "Cake Decorating" followed. A third project called "Star-Spangled Foods" was all about the American palate. It featured bar-b-q baked beans, ranch burgers, jumbalaya, snicker doodles and pie recipes.
At sixteen-years-old, "You're the Chef" is Fabery's fifth cooking project, which he entered at the Ohio State Fair this year. Because it is a knowledge-based entry he wasn't required to demonstrate cooking. He described all he learned and presented photos of the meals in his project booklet.
"This year was interesting because you have to make everything in the book, seven meals. I learned a lot about other cultures. One section is dedicated to Chinese cooking. I had to buy a wok. I didn't even know what it was, never heard of one until I got to this project. It's exotic. I made won-ton soup, a stir-fry beef vegetable dish, fried rice," Fabery said, "but it's hard to find some of the spices."
Delicious food is the goal though the project booklet adds nutritional information, questions on price comparisons of fresh vs. frozen food, more questions how to shop for savings. "I put in a lot of effort. I don't want to be left behind (since) this is more of a competition." Fabery explained.
Photos of his seven meals, with each recipe listed below it, were compiled in his project booklet for judging : Deli Meal, Stir-Fry Meal, Range Top Meal, Oven Meal, Microwave Meal (included lemon seafood with pasta, raspberry peach tortillas), Slow Cooker Meal and Vegetarian Meal with two sets of recipes : vegetarian chili, and white chili, each with accompanying sides.
John's mother, who appreciated the weeks of meal variety, commented with a laugh that "I seem to be gaining some weight." Her favorite was the white chili, while his was sweet and sour chicken from the Slow Cooker Meal.
Fabery exhibited one of his individual photography project photos at the Ohio State Fair this week, his first time there. Next comes the Huron County Fair where his pen of breeding rabbits will be up for judging. "It has been a bumpy year for rabbits," he said. His meat pen of two rabbits died due to the weather and his does lost all except one bunny out of their litters. He won't have a meat pen at all because of the deaths.
"Mr. (John) Borsick, Rabbit Supervisor at the Junior Fair, has been very helpful," John's mother said. "The weather was too rainy, then too hot. Rabbits are a lot more delicate than people may think."
In the competition "Doe and Litter Challenge," Febery has to get mama with all her baby bunnies out of their cage and up on a table to be judged. He has been working with them every day.
He has had a busy 4-H calendar this year as President of his club, Hartland Progressive Farmers, as a 4-H Camp Counselor, also a member of the Junior Fair Board. Daily work caring for his rabbits, having the health and lives of other beings in his hands is another of the responsibilities, or heartbreaks, he and all 4-H members take seriously.
Fabery can participate in three more years of Junior Fair endeavors, until age nineteen, so many more opportunities are yet to appear. He is coming out of his shell, and says, "4-H has been very important. It helped me expand and meet new people. Plus, Mom always tells me that lots of men are famous chefs."