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Chronicle photo by Lisa Carroll
Sharon Stuckey Comanche County Extension Educator
Sharon Stuckey Comanche County Extension Educator

LAWTON - A unique competition meant to stir the imagination and encourage interest in the food industry is now available to high school 4-H members across the state.

By entering into the Bright Minds Food Innovation Contest, 4-H members are provided with the opportunity to develop an entirely new and creative food or beverage item."This contest encompasses marketing, packaging, presentation skills, food labeling, safety, storage and working with a mentor," said Cathy Allen, State 4-H Curriculum Specialist at Oklahoma State University, in a recent press release. "We want to provide youth with an opportunity to develop an understanding and appreciation for the many aspects of the food industry," she said. "They'll use skills they've developed through 4-H, including problem-solving, critical thinking and teamwork. We encourage you to use your imagination and think outside the box."

Providing examples of creative products that the Bright Minds Food Innovation committee may be looking for, the State 4-H Office said to imagine ideas such as a straw made out of cookies to drink milk with. Or perhaps, an ice cream spoon that's actually edible. "We really want out club members to get creative and think about what type of food or beverage products could be beneficial in the near future," Allen said. "By participating in this contest, our club members will strengthen their public speaking skills, collaboration and other life skills they've been working on since joining 4-H."

High school freshman through seniors may enter the contest individually or in teams of two to four. While counties will set their own deadline for when product proposals will be due, up to two county proposals must be submitted by Jan. 31, 2020, to the State 4-H Office. On Feb. 28, the top five entries from across Oklahoma will be selected to move forward in the contest. According to Associate Professor in OSU's Department of Animal & Food Sciences, Dr. Ranjith Ramana- than, the Bright Minds Food Innovation Contest is a first for Oklahoma youth. "This is an exciting opportunity for the youth to know more about food science and endless career opportunities. We need outstanding individuals to consider food science as a career option to address future food challenges and create innovative foods that are healthy, nutritious and delicious," said Ramanathan.

"Product development is a creative way to learn all facets of the food industry. The 4-H'ers will gain an understanding of the role of ingredients, food processing, food safety, packaging, marketing and labeling. They'll also have an opportunity to interact with food scientists and learn more about the food industry." Comanche County Extension Educator, Sharon Stuckey says the State 4-H Office provides a guideline of specifics that will help 4-H members navigate through the contest process. "They're looking for a fun, but new and original idea," said Sharon. "I really think this is going to be a really great opportunity for kids. I hope anyone with even a spark of interest enters." The winning team or will receive a team plaque and medallions. If any winning members choose to enroll and major in Food Service at OSU, it is said they will also be provided with a scholarship. For more information on how to compete in the Bright Minds Innovation Contest, contact Comanche County OSU Extension & 4-H at (580) 355-1176.