Young bakers' cakes raise thousands for 4-H & FFA Fair at auction

4-H and FFA Fairs hosts annual cake auction.

For the young 4-H bakers, preparation for the cake auction can be a nerve-wracking process. These culinary creators work for weeks, perfecting recipes and testing ideas to come out with a product that will eventually sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

For 9-year-old Garrett Hutchison, of Littlestown, though, baking is simply a family tradition.


Hutchison won the grand-champion prize for his Lemon-Lime Soda Cake at the 4-H & FFA Fair this year, continuing a family tradition of winning 4-H baking contests. In producing a champion cake, he follows his brother, Max, and his mother, Rachel. Hutchison's cake would sell for $3,300, a similar figure to last year's winning cake, which sold for $3,400.

Hutchison, whose favorite treat to bake is M&M cookies, said he felt pretty comfortable up in front of the crowd selling his prized cake.

The fair's Cake Auction is a tradition that reaches back more than 50 years, according to auction organizer Amy Petkovsek. During the auction, the prize winners from the 4-H's annual baking competition are sold off to businesses and community members in what turns out to be one of the fair's biggest fundraisers.

The cakes often fetch between $100 and $1,000 for the fair, often being bought by local businesses eager to support the fair. Those baked goods that don't make the auction are sold indoors as part of the 4-H bake sale. Petkovsek said the money raised at the auction helps keep admission free at the fair. In recent years, the fair has raised between $35,000 and $50,000 for the organization. Many of the cakes, once bought, are then donated back to 4-H and sold at the sale to raise money for the Carroll County Food Sunday.

Each item and baker are judged by a panel of experts who are certified in 4-H food judging. Petkovsek said they are trained to analyze food consistency, preparation and presentation. In addition to the food, the children themselves are tested by the judges.

"At a lot of 4-H fairs, they just drop off the items and never see the judge, but here in Carroll County they do conference judging," Petkovsek said. "The child talks to the judge and tells them, 'Oh, I struggled when I put the frosting on, or I tried three times, but this is the fourth.' It adds a whole different element to the judging."

Hutchison said he wasn't nervous facing the judges, who asked him about his preparation methods and the struggles he encountered in the baking process.

"One time it didn't cook right, so we had to put it in another way," Hutchison said.

He mostly followed the recipe, given to him by 4-H, but said he added more vanilla for taste and additional flour to help it hold together in the baking process.

Petkovsek said in addition to the fundraising importance of the auction, the baking process is a great way for participants to share life skills.

"Obviously we're very proud of the agricultural aspect, but we're about more than that," Petkovek said. "We're about teaching skills for life. Whether it's standing in front of a crowd of 300 people or learning to bake, it's all about important life skills. I still bake today because of the skills I learned when I was in the 4-H."