Joaquin Peral, 11, knows what it takes to make apple cupcakes worthy of entering in the Stanislaus County Fair.
He is a member of the 4-H club at Westside Ministries, which serves a largely low-income part of Turlock. The city kids learn farming and homemaking skills as they tend to plants, grow fruits and vegetables, and cook up the cupcakes and other treats.
“We use four apples and shred them and put them in a saucepan,” Joaquin said Monday as the club got its baked entries together. “We cook it with butter, water and cinnamon, and bake it.”
The fair will open Friday for its 10-day run at the Stanislaus County Fairground, half a mile north of the Columbia Street headquarters of Westside Ministries. The 4-H club, known as Community Cultivators, has a small garden at that site and two acres for animals and gardening on West Greenway Avenue, south of Turlock.
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Westside, founded in 1984, provides social services, recreation and other activities, with an emphasis on sharing the Christian faith. The 4-H club, which has about 70 members ages 9 to 19, is secular in keeping with the national bylaws.
The members plan to enter more than 1,000 jars of preserved food for judging and display at the fair – salsa, applesauce, carrot marmalade, mixed vegetables and more. They have worked on floral projects, arts and crafts, and baked goods such as cookies and biscotti. They have raised hogs, sheep and chickens.
“Agriculture is a perfect way to teach them to become hard workers, to teach them not to give up,” said JoLynn DiGrazia, who co-founded and runs Westside Ministries with her husband, Joe DiGrazia.
The time spent on projects, she added, keeps the members from drifting toward gangs and other trouble. And the cooking and preserving skills help families stretch their food budgets, she said.
Cleanup is part of the job. “I like cooking the most and helping out,” said McKenna Blair, 11, while standing in the dishwashing line. “We all work as a group.”
The fairground will teem with 4-H and FFA members from around the county, many of them children of full-time farmers and ranchers. But both organizations like to point out that they have plenty of urban members, too, such as those in the Westside program.
Its farm is on the small side, but it has enough room for the 4-Hers to work. Monday, Larry Romero, 11, practiced how he will parade his hog, Babe, in the show ring at the fair. The judge, he said, “wants to see how it walks, how big it is, how long it is.”
Out in the vegetable rows, Faviola Uriarte, also 11, picked a pumpkin that she will shine up with olive oil before it goes to the fair.
“You have to check on the bottom to see if there are any holes from the bugs,” she said. “And it has to be pure orange.”