By Craig W. Anderson

Elisabeth Watkins of Linden was named by the National 4-H Council as the winner of the 2019 4-H Youth in Action Award for Healthy Living. She will receive a $5,000 scholarship for higher education and will serve as an advocate and spokesperson for 4-H Healthy Living programming. She was chosen from 167 applicants.

“I’m excited about it and humbled at the same time about the award and the opportunity to go to school in the Midwest or South,” Elisabeth said. “It’s my time to get away and experience a different environment, people and places.” She is currently a senior at Central Catholic High School in Modesto. 

Elisabeth is looking forward to attending college at one of three universities: Purdue (she has been accepted) and is awaiting word from Ohio State and Virginia Tech, all of which have agricultural communication majors.

“Ag Communication is a fairly new major,” Elisabeth said. “It’s designed to make the public aware of the value of agriculture and all three of these schools have superior Ag Communication programs.”

Praise from national 4-H Council

In reference to Elisabeth and other award recipients, Abbey Tillman of the National 4-H Council said, “These young women represent the essence of true leadership” and that “it’s clear that California 4-H is providing great mentorship and guidance to the youth of this great state and we at National 4-H Council are glad to share their stories nationwide.”

Pleased, proud parents

“Kenny and I are very excited about this great honor Elisabeth’s received,” said mom, Molly Watkins. “I think she’ll have an advantage in ag communications because she’s been on TV nearly two dozen times and her 4-H experiences have certainly informed this career path she’s chosen. Hers is an excellent example of 4-H helping someone achieve their goals.”

Enthused from the start

Elisabeth became enthusiastic about healthy living during elementary school and her time in the Linden-Peters 4-H Club where her interest in cooking projects came to the forefront. As she learned more about nutrition, living a healthy lifestyle and the impact of a balanced diet on physical and mental well-being, her interest in cooking and food production became a life-changing path toward her future career.

With her first 4-H demonstration “How to Make an Omelet,” Elisabeth began developing her speaking skills while cooking at the same time. As her interest in cooking and teaching grew she began competing in – and winning – the Food Network’s “Chopped Junior” show. She routinely appears of local television as “Farm Girl Chef” sharing healthy recipes and cooking tips. She adopted a “farm girl” look with a cowboy shirt, boots, jeans and a fancy belt buckle. The producers liked the look and her confidence: “I’m going to win because I’m a farm girl and farm girls never lose.”

Experience and volunteering           

“I’ve made 27 TV appearances over the last three years,” she said, “and I enjoy it a lot. They’re all learning experiences.”

She volunteered to lead the California State Fair 4-H Cooking Throwdown in 2017, a role in which she coordinated all aspects of the program – encouraging youth to participate, contacting industry professionals to serve as judges and overseeing all facets of the competition. She then created a similar program in San Joaquin County, providing youth with opportunities for fun, hands-on learning for a healthy lifestyle.

Potential future TV food host

“Working with youth to help them develop the self-confidence to accomplish something great is so fulfilling,” Elisabeth said, noting that she hoped one day to host her own farm-to-table TV show, demonstrating how food is harvested, packaged and turned into a healthy meal.

“I’m coming from an ag-production background and I feel strongly that people need to know about the laws, regulations and mandates farmers have to deal with,” she said. “Consumers need to trust farmers and know what they go through to provide the best product to our homes at reasonable prices that’s safe to eat.”

Official recognition for Elisabeth’s award will come March 12 at the 10th annual   4-H Legacy Awards in Washington, D.C.