AZLE — With students, parents and teachers settling into the groove of another school year, Azle 4-H is ready to start involving more kids in its rapidly growing projects.
4-H is a nation-wide youth development program that, until 2021, did not have much of a presence in Azle. After Azle resident Danielle Barber took over the program, Azle 4-H exploded in participation and hasn’t stopped since.
While most people associate 4-H with livestock shows, the organization wants parents to know it’s got much more to offer. On Oct. 10, 4-H held the first of this year’s cooking/food nutrition projects at Azle’s First Methodist Church. Shana Dildine, a parent volunteer who took over the cooking project from Barber this year, taught kids aged 8 and up on the importance of hygiene, kitchen safety and proper food preparation along with beginning to plan the meals the group will be preparing this year. At the end of Dildine’s introduction, she led the students in making butter from scratch.
Dildine says her interest in the topic really grew after discovering that one of her 40-year-old colleagues did not know how to peel an apple.
“I’ve seen so many adults these days who don’t know how to prepare food that it’s kind of becoming a lost art,” Dildine said. “That’s sad because if we ever get in another predicament like COVID where the restaurants close down, people won’t know how to prepare their own food. I want to give them an idea of how to cook and prepare fresh food, instead of takeout, and get them ready to be young adults. My grandmother is the one who taught me how to cook and that’s carried on with me teaching my kids. I hope they get the self-confidence to start cooking on their own and helping their families prepare their food.”
Dildine is a teacher at Castleberry ISD and was involved in her local 4-H as a child. Her daughter has been involved in 4-H since last year, not only participating in the cooking program, but also showing rabbits, pigs and poultry. Along with leading the cooking project, Dildine is also in charge of Clover Kids, an introduction into 4-H activities for children younger than 8, and the show rabbit project.
The cooking project will take place at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month and is open to any 4-H students interested in learning about and preparing fresh homemade meals. In the class’ first lesson, students were separated into groups and took turns vigorously shaking jars of heavy whipping cream until the fluids separated from the solid butter, while Dildine spoke about the history of the practice and the prevalent problem of vitamin D deficiency. After a great arm workout, the kids got to taste, and bring home, their butter spread on saltine crackers. Some said they found a new favorite snack.
Not only was the event a ton of fun, but it also provided the young people an opportunity to learn, work together and socialize with their peers. Many parents say their children have grown and transformed because of the responsibility and opportunities provided by Azle 4-H.
Nichole Proctor, mother of one of the children in the cooking project, said she sees the class as a perfect way for her son to better work with others and remembers the program fondly from when she was involved as a child.
“When I found out there was a local 4-H group and that he was eligible, I just wanted to get him involved and have some of the experiences I did,” Proctor said. “As an only child, I thought it would be useful for him to work with people who might communicate differently. It’s more about teamwork. It’s a great program. I encourage people to get involved.”
Proctor’s son, Xander, has participated in 4-H’s archery program since last year. Proctor said the archery program gives students an opportunity to learn safely in a controlled environment and the group’s equipment loan program lets kids try out archery without parents investing hundreds of dollars. At the end of the year, Xander was even awarded a scholarship for archery which he hopes to spend on equipment to make sure other 4-H students don’t go without.
“I’m so proud of him,” Proctor said.
Along with cooking and archery, 4-H offers projects on horse wrangling, bee keeping, poultry, public speaking, rabbits and livestock.
Parents interested in getting their kids signed up for 4-H projects can learn more on the Tarrant County 4-H page at agrilife.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Azle 4-H also regularly posts information on its Facebook page.