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Hartselle Enquirer

Students use practical life skills at Morgan County 4-H competition

By Wes Tomlinson 

For the Enquirer  


The sizzling of a prime rib steak on a cast iron skillet could be heard Wednesday morning as Eva Elementary student Mason Walker flipped, seared and grilled it to medium-rare perfection, repeating a family tradition handed down from his father at the 2024 Morgan County 4H Round Up competition. 

Walker was one of 150 students in Morgan County who registered to compete in the competition at the Sparkman Civic Center in Hartselle, with 20 different events ranging from photography and interior design to culinary arts, woodworking and gardening. 

Students competing in the chef event had to prepare and cook their dish in 15 minutes or less in front of two judges: Morgan County 4-H Agent Assistant Kathleen Woodside and Amy Shelton with the Morgan County Soil and Water Conservation District. 

“You’ve got one minute and 11 seconds left, do you want to go ahead and start slicing it up?” Shelton asked Walker as he placed his steak onto a plate. 

“I’m letting it rest,” replied Walker, a fifth-grade student. 

Photos by Jeronimo Nisa
Mason Walker, a fifth grade student at Eva Elementary School, slices the steak he cooked during the Morgan County 4-H competition at Sparkman Civic Center in Hartselle on Wednesday.

Walker seasoned his steak with garlic and pepper and said he and his father usually grill beef on their smoker, but he prefers using a skillet. He is looking into the culinary field as a future career option. 

“I can control the meat more on a cast iron than I can with a smoker,” Walker said. 

In the next room, several students were competing in a bake-off where they made cupcakes, brownies and intricate-looking cakes. They prepared two different baked goods apiece and were required to print their recipes and nutritional information. 

The students had to bake their goods according to a theme and this year’s theme was carnival foods. Some of them were influenced by family recipes handed down from generations past. 

Eva fifth grade student McKenzie Bailey baked popcorn cupcakes with mini marshmallows resembling popcorn. 

“This was my great-grandmother’s recipe before she passed away,” Bailey said. “The secret is just one cup of sprinkles.” 

Bailey also baked a chocolate chip cookie cake she said she made from her mother’s recipe. 

“We love baking these for birthdays, but it’s usually bigger,” Bailey said. “My secret ingredient for that is one fresh farm egg.” 

James Harton, a fourth-grade student at F.E. Burleson Elementary School, baked some fudge brownies and banana bread cupcakes. He used butter, chocolate, sugar, milk, vanilla and salt to make the icing on the cupcakes. 

“That was my great-grandmother Dykstra’s recipe,” Harton said of the cupcakes. 

In the interior design competition, students had to design a fictional room of their choosing. Crestline Elementary fourth graders Ellie Houser and Rowe Swafford designed a baby’s nursery and posted images of their idea on a cardboard cutout. 

“It’s for a baby girl’s nursery, so we went with pink,” Houser said. 

Austin Blankenship, a Franklin County 4-H agent, and Dylan Gilbert, a Winston County 4-H agent, were judges for the extreme birdhouse competition, where students had to design and build a birdhouse in any fashion they chose. Blankenship said students who are involved in 4-H familiarize themselves with practical life skills by entering competitions like the Round Up. 

“Across 4-H, all of our competitive events build upon life skills and those life skills are really the foundation for what our kids need to go into the workforce,” Blankenship said. “With this extreme birdhouse, they work with power tools and work on design plans. These projects also help show students what they are talented in.” 

Those who placed first in Wednesday’s competition will advance to the 4-H Regional Congress for Northwest Alabama at Calhoun Community College on May 17. 


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