For Emma and Kaya Pehringer, produce judging was something of a calling – literally.
“Three years ago, we received a call from (4-H educator) Jim Dawson telling us that the produce judging team had lost two of its members at the last minute,” said 12-year-old Emma. “He asked if we could jump in, and we did, even though we didn’t know what we were doing. All these years later, we are still doing it and loving it.”
With years of experience under their belts, the Pehringers led their produce judging teams to the upper echelon of excellence during the 4-H Showcase Showdown held in Laramie in late June. Both teams placed third in their respective divisions and were just points away from taking second place.
Showcase Showdown is an annual 4-H event that offers opportunities for students to display a range of skills, including horse judging, cake decorating, cooking and, of course, produce judging. Twenty Wyoming teams participated in the produce judging event this year, including two teams from Johnson County. The team of Emma Pehringer, Erin Houseman and Maddie Ann Ludwig was one of 14 teams in the junior division, while a team composed of Kaya Pehringer and Cassie and Sydney Downare was one of six teams in the senior division.
There are two main sections to the produce judging competition, according to the Downares. The first is the ID line in which students have to identify a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Later, students are asked to look at four plates topped with the same type of fruit or vegetable and rank the produce based on quality.
The ranking is the most difficult part of the competition, according to 16-year-old Sydney Downare.
“Ranking is the hardest because everybody on the team has a different opinion about how things should be ranked,” Sydney said. “But the ID line is definite and straightforward: It’s usually pretty obvious what you’re looking at.”
While ranking proves challenging, there are certain things you can look for to make the process easier, according to Sydney.
“You’re looking at the shape and size but also the amount of food you could get off of a certain piece of produce,” Sydney said. “For example, a beautiful large apple with a bruise on it is going to be ranked lower than a smaller apple with no bruise because that bruise affects how much of the apple you are able to eat.”
In addition to ranking the produce, students have to explain why they ranked things the way they did. This proved a little nerve-wracking for Cassie.
“I’m kind of a shy person naturally, but produce judging has really given me a lot of confidence when it comes to talking to people,” Cassie said.
While Cassie said she grew as a public speaker, Ludwig said that produce judging taught her about time management.
“One thing you learn early on is that you only have a certain amount of time when ranking each class,” Ludwig said. “So you have to make the best use of the little time you have.”
Public speaking and time management are just a few of the valuable skills that the girls have acquired while produce judging, according to Emma.
“I think it’s good to know what to look for in fruit and vegetables,” Emma said. “After all, who wants to eat a cruddy piece of fruit?”