COLUMBIA, Mo. – “Joel and the Garden Goddesses” had more than 37 ingredients to choose from and almost two hours to toss a salad together.

The team from southwestern Missouri was participating in the Show-Me Chef contest, a Missouri 4-H state competition aimed at raising interest in the culinary arts.

The event was one of many sessions offered at the 67th annual State 4-H Congress on May 31. The congress had 350 attendees this year, said Jim Ronald, a University of Missouri 4-H youth specialist.

Eric Cartwright, executive chef at MU Campus Dining Services, demonstrated healthy food options and preparation techniques for teenagers from across the state.

Teams with creative names like the “Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies” selected salad components and created vinaigrettes.

Ronald, the session leader, tried to provide ingredients from as many local venues as possible, including herbs from his own garden. He wanted to emphasize all the different types of foods grown in Missouri.

“It’s fresh,” he said. “It makes you feel good to support local farmers.”

“Joel and the Garden Goddesses” – named after the only boy on the team – made a vinaigrette from red wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, honey, blueberry juice and sage. They filled their salad with red peppers, shredded carrots and cucumbers, and topped the creation with a “4-H” made from carrot pieces.

Judges Vivian Mason, Lucy Schrader and Martha Dragich tasted the salads and critiqued the teams.

“They really were thinking about the ingredients,” Schrader said, adding that the teams used the knowledge they had learned earlier in the morning to make decisions.

Alyssa Rockers, 16, of the Forest Mill Friends 4-H club, hoped her team would win the spirit award. She said some of her friends had won the award the previous year, even though the judges did not like the dressing.

“I wanted to beat them,” she said.

Her team didn’t receive any of the awards for their salad, however, the judges complimented Joel and the Goddesses on their color scheme.

The loss did not dampen the group’s spirits. All seven said that they loved 4-H and the congress, and were excited for the dance Thursday night.

This was Alyssa’s second year at 4-H Congress. She has been a 4-H member for almost nine years and this year is running for regional representative on the Missouri 4-H state council.

“I learn so much. If I hadn’t been in 4-H, I wouldn’t be responsible at all,” she said. “You’re inspired to be a leader.”

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