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Elisabeth Watkins: Farm Girl Chef Today, Agriculture Broadcaster of the Future

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At just 18, Elisabeth Watkins has more passion and verve than many find in a lifetime! This forward-thinking young woman’s ultimate goal is to be an agriculture broadcaster, and she is well on her way. With a persona known as Farm Girl Chef, she is already a rising star in our community.

Elisabeth launched her career after winning Food Network’s Chopped Junior as a high school freshman in November 2015. The title of “Chopped Champion” came with a prize of $10,000, which she has put toward college. Since winning Chopped, she has done many interesting things, including spending time in the Sacramento media market, with many of her regular segments aired on Good Day Sacramento, FOX 40, ABC 10 and KCRA3. She has done features on walnuts, peaches, cherries, asparagus and dairy products, to name a few. Whether it’s a demonstration at a home and garden show, in a classroom or on TV, her primary goal is for the consumer to learn what season the produce is grown in and ways to prepare the item.

Focus on Healthy Living
In 2017, she was one of only ten students to receive a $2,000 Domino’s Pizza grant to improve healthy eating in her school and community. “I always tell parents and young students that growing your own food in a garden or taking it into the kitchen and preparing a meal out of it will encourage picky eaters to try new foods,” she stated. With the grant, she chose to purchase two hydroponic towers for Central Catholic High School’s agriculture department. The towers can grow different commodities year-round and are completely self-sufficient; they include a timed water circulating system complete with all of the nutrients needed for the plants to thrive.

Most recently, Elisabeth was named the 2019 CowBelle of the Year for the San Joaquin-Stanislaus CattleWomen in recognition of her efforts to improve agriculture literacy and the promotion of beef cattle. Her recipe for a breakfast beef strata was featured on FOX 40 and ABC 10 to promote the use of beef. Elisabeth will be recognized for her achievement at the California CattleWomen Convention in Reno, Nevada, in December.

Elisabeth draws her inspiration for recipes published on her blog from the family’s current farming operation, which includes the raising of cattle, hay, walnuts, almonds, peaches and cherries. “Peaches are my favorite commodity,” she said. “I like to walk the rows, picking one peach off a tree, taking a bite to check its maturity and throwing it on the orchard floor to replenish the soil, then going to pull another peach off the next tree in the row.”

Speaking for Farmers
Elisabeth’s dad, Kenny, was an officer for the California Farm Bureau Federation. As she was growing up, Elisabeth attended more business meetings, conventions and formal dinners than she would like to admit. “I feel strongly that growing up in Farm Bureau is the reason I am so passionate about agriculture literacy and education. I saw first-hand how hard it was for farmers to step away from their operations to advocate for their products and farming practices.” Farm Girl Chef is a way for Elisabeth to reconnect the consumer to where their food is grown and how it is produced. She accomplishes this goal through her website and blog, social media accounts and broadcast media appearances. Farm Girl Chef has become a voice for the farmers.

She attributes her early interest in this field not only to her parents, but to 4-H, where her parents met showing cattle. “I started in the Linden-Peters 4-H club at nine years old. One of the skills I learned in 4-H, which has been the foundation for my career thus far, was establishing and refining my communication skills. My first year of 4-H, my mom, Molly, was adamant I participate in the Speech and Demonstration Contest, so I created a demonstration titled Omelet Up! When I started to piece together the demonstration, I did not know how to make an omelet,” she expressed. “After lots of practice making omelets every morning for my dad’s breakfast, I got pretty good. That year I won a gold medal at the California State 4-H Speech and Demonstration Day. I competed in the contest for two more years, each time winning gold at state.”

Her brother, Kenneth, is three years older and a senior at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, working toward a degree in agribusiness and ranch management with a minor in agriculture real estate appraisal. The first year he showed a steer in 4-H, Elisabeth admits she became jealous because she wasn’t big enough or old enough to do the same. She had to wait two more years before she could be like him. She chuckled as she said, “Every year we raised and exhibited steers together I placed higher in my market class than he did.” Elisabeth continued the family tradition of raising beef cattle but was also a member of the cooking project, which really gave her the background and experiences that made her successful on Chopped Junior. 

Grounded in 4-H
She has intense respect for the 100-plus-year-old National 4-H organization. She looks at leadership within 4-H and FFA as a major factor that helped, guided and taught her when she first started out. “I learned from the role models, whether it was direct instruction or learning by watching. Now that I have learned the ropes, it is my time to give back and be the person that helped me reach the place I am now,” she mused. Currently, Elisabeth is serving as the National 4-H Council Youth in Action Healthy Living Pillar winner for 2019. Her role includes speaking at the National 4-H Healthy Living Summit in February 2020 in addition to developing workshops centered on creating healthy bodies both inside and out.

The 4-H cooking project sparked her interest in cooking, and that interest in food and production agriculture is what drives her to continue. Growing up surrounded by fresh produce gave her the inspiration to create seasonal recipes. “I prefer to cook by myself. My recipes are always seasonal so my favorites are always changing. I use the kitchen as a stress reliever. Now that I am living in a college dorm room I can’t do nearly as much cooking as I would like.”

Elisabeth is currently a freshman in college. She is working toward obtaining a degree in agriculture communication in the hope of continuing her career in agriculture broadcasting. When asked what advice this young superstar would give to her peers, without hesitation she said, “The more you hustle, the farther you can take your career. Take initiative for your future by gaining experience and asking questions. Explore every opportunity available to you.”

Wise words from a true Farm Girl Chef!