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Fair starts today! 4-H kids are force behind food booth

Workers from Amusement Attractions set up the midway at the Becker County Fairgrounds Tuesday afternoon. BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE

Need a place to sit and rest during the Becker County Fair with a tasty meal to boot? Stop at the 4-H food stand on the west side of the fairgrounds, housed in the white building across from the big tent.

“The 4-H kitchen is a tradition,” co-manager Mickey Okeson said. “It’s the one place you can come in and sit down.”

Each year 4-H members run the food service, with a little help from the adults. There is a hired manager that takes care of all the food ordering and prepping. This year the duties are being split between Okeson and Karen Erickson.

Adult volunteers and parents are also in charge of the grill and fryer for safety purposes.

The 4-H kitchen is inspected and has to meet regulations so everyone, and everything, is safe.

Every kid involved in 4-H — whether they are affiliated with a club or independently — is required to help out in the kitchen.

They get a small stipend for working, but more importantly, they are then eligible for the 4-H scholarship program that enables them to attend the state fair.

The 4-H kitchen at the Becker County Fair and a Watkins sale they have at another time in the year are 4-H’s two big fundraisers of the year.

At the 4-H food stand, they serve food according to what is in demand from previous years. Burgers, hot dogs and fries are the staples. The most popular item on the menu is the 4-H taco, though. Okeson said they sold about 700 of them last year.

Thursday through Saturday, the 4-H kitchen serves up hot dinners at noon including turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy on Thursday, pork on Friday and roast beef on Saturday.

Once evening comes around though, and the amount of people at the fair increases, it’s more of the short-order foods like burgers and fries to keep up with the line of people waiting to be served.

“I know there may be a line, but it’s worth the wait,” Okeson said.

In the last couple years, the 4-H building has been open for breakfast as well, serving up rolls and breakfast pizza.

“It’s not so much for profit, but for the kids to eat,” Okeson said.

The 4-H kids who are at the fair early to show their animals need breakfast, and there is nowhere else on the fairgrounds that serves breakfast. And, she added, the breakfast pizza is quite popular.

The kitchen is then open until the fair closes.

During Senior Day at the fair, the 4-H kitchen also serves up free pie and ice cream and coffee to all seniors. Okeson said the fair board provides the funds for the pies.

With food prices increasing, Okeson said the 4-H group will likely have to raise their prices a little next year. Not as much food is being donated from companies either, so it costs more for 4-H to purchase the food.

“We want to make a profit, of course, but we want to make it affordable for the families at the fair,” she said.

There are two ways they are helping make the food even more affordable than it already is. At the 4-H building next door, anyone can purchase kitchen bucks. Buy $10 worth of kitchen bucks and get $12, which can only be spent at the 4-H kitchen.

And for each 4-H exhibitor, the kid gets $5 of Ag Country bucks, which can then be traded in toward the $12 card at the 4-H building.

Through a grant from Walmart and Cenex, 4-H was able to purchase a new stove for the fair this year, so prepare for an even longer line leading to good food this fair.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.