May 27, 2005 | By: Terri McLean

Learning the age-old practice of curing a ham, canning vegetables or making pickles might not seem like the most practical of skills to teach today’s young people. But the lessons they learn in the process can certainly prove useful.

That’s the idea behind a new 4-H project in Woodford County called Smokin’, Picklin’ and Gigglin’. The project recently received a $9,400 Friends of 4-H Venture Grant to bring it to fruition.

“I think with any of our 4-H projects they’re learning a life skill,” said Jenny Cocanougher, Woodford County Extension agent for 4-H Youth Development. “Now they may not be curing hams for the rest of their lives, but they’re learning a process. They’re learning to master a skill, to have a finished product.”

The Smokin’, Picklin’ and Gigglin’ project is an expansion of the long-standing 4-H country ham project. While the newer project will continue to give 4-Hers the opportunity to cure country hams, it will also give them the added experiences of smoking meats, making apple butter and salsa and canning vegetables from the garden. In the process, they will learn to use equipment in the Woodford County Cooperative Extension Office’s state-of-the-art commercial kitchen.

“This is pretty unique,” Cocanougher said. “Since we’ve been able to expand our building and add this commercial kitchen, we keep looking at how we can best utilize them. Now we can bring kids in and let them see the whole process involved.”

Equally unique, Cocanougher said, is that the project calls for construction of an onsite 10-foot-by-16-foot smokehouse for country ham production. Previously, Woodford County participants in the country ham project traveled to Finchville Farms in Finchville to take a fresh ham through the curing process. Summer intern Stefanie Ballinger, a University of Kentucky College of Agriculture junior, will help oversee construction of the smokehouse.

“It should easily hold over 200 hams,” Cocanougher said, adding that some neighboring 4-H programs may also use the smokehouse.

In addition to the skills learned in the curing, canning and smoking processes, Woodford County 4-Hers who participate in the new program when it kicks off in August will also get a lesson in how agricultural commodities are marketed in today’s world, said Benjy Mikel, Extension meat scientist at UK.

“Students learn the process and importance of how agricultural commodities are converted to value-added foods,” said Mikel, one of the project’s team members.

Participants in the expanded Smokin’, Picklin’ and Gigglin’ project will design their own product labels and create a marketing plan for their finished goods. They will also be able to sell their products in the Invest in Youth 4-H Auction, keeping 95 percent of the proceeds and giving the remaining 5 percent to the Woodford County 4-H Council, the sponsoring organization.

To conclude the project, 4-Hers will exhibit one of their hams in the Kentucky State Fair, giving a three- to five-minute presentation in the process. 

“The ultimate benefit from this project is twofold,” Mikel said. “Kids learn about a time-honored agricultural practice that is centered in Kentucky, which is still viable because it produces a value-added product, and two because they learn to communicate their knowledge gain to judges, thereby honing their speaking skills.”


Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276

Contact: Jenny Cocanougher, 859-873-4601
Michael Duckworth, 859-873-4601