Field trips are out, but the learning continues at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Students who are involved with UC Cooperative Extension's 4-H Youth Development program will compete virtually in a unique pumpkin-growing contest centered at the 330-acre research station in Parlier.
The program replaces traditional in-person educational events offered to schools, which were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, teams will be organized and assigned to small plots of pumpkins. The remote teams will act as farm managers and use an imaginary budget to decide on the use of micronutrients, fertilizers, pollinators, pest control, fungicides and irrigation practices. All the farming will be conducted by Kearney staff and progress shared frequently via the pumpkin project's Instagram account, @UCCE_KARE_pumpkins.
As part of the project,
- Prizes will be offered for the teams with the highest yield and quality of pumpkins.
- Students interested in engineering will compete with homemade catapults in a “pumpkin chunkin'” contest
- 4-H members who love cooking and baking may enter items in a cooking and baking with pumpkin contest.
- Artistic participants can submit entries for pumpkin carving and decorating contests.
- Animal enthusiasts will feed pumpkins to elephants at the Chaffee Zoo.
“They will be doing all things pumpkin,” said Ryan Puckett, Kearney outreach coordinator, who is working closely with outreach mentor, Julie Pedraza, a staff research associate at the center.
The Kearney event will give the 4-H members activities in a time when 4-H program opportunities have diminished due to various restrictions and closures.
“COVID hit really hard,” said Predaza, who has served as a judge and consultant for traditional 4-H competitions in sewing, baking, community service and public speaking. “The Fresno Fair might be cancelled. Projects are on hold. 4-H members are waiting to see if they will be able to do regular competitions. We decided to launch our first virtual program.”
The first Zoom contestant meeting will be the first week of August.