AMES, Iowa – Iowa 4-H recognized Poweshiek County 4-H Junior Master Gardener program leader Betsy Cranston with the Superintendent's Special Award for her contributions to youth horticulture on Aug. 12 at the Iowa State Fair Junior Horticulture competition.
"We talk a lot of times in 4-H that it involves the youth, but it also involves the involvement of caring adults. And nobody defines that better than Betsy Cranston," said Rich Pope, retired Iowa State University Extension and Outreach specialist.
Cranston first became actively involved by taking on a leadership role within the Deep River Helping Hands 4-H Club in Poweshiek County's 4-H program in 2011. As a club leader, Cranston was generous with her time and always attentive to each member who came to her seeking assistance. She went above and beyond to help club members learn important life skills, such as record keeping, by holding educational workshops and working one-on-one with those interested.
Cranston's horticulture involvement began with helping her own kids show horticulture at the Poweshiek County Fair and Iowa State Fair. In 2013, she became the program leader of the Poweshiek County 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program. Cranston shares her knowledge and gardening skills with interested fourth through eighth graders. Throughout the spring and summer months, she dedicates time to helping the club's participants learn how to plant vegetables, prevent weeds, and yield higher-quality produce while teaching them the importance of hard work and perseverance. Cranston also enables these youth to go on field trips and encourages them to showcase their produce at the Iowa State Fair.
Those involved with the Poweshiek County 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program agree that Cranston is knowledgeable, kind and generous.
Rosie Leasure, a Poweshiek County 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program member since 2020, said, "Betsy teaches us about what's going on in the garden and how the plants benefit each other."
"Betsy is really smart. She brings the science, which helps us with the plants," said Hanna McCue, a Poweshiek County 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program member since 2020. "But she also does the little things, like bring cookies. She chooses to spend her time with us, and that means a lot."
"Betsy does a tremendous job helping youth to learn about gardening," said Thea Larsson, a Poweshiek County 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program member from 2015 to 2022. "Going to the garden is something I looked forward to during the week for so many years."
Larsson credits Cranston for helping her win the 4-H Iowa State Fair Horticulture Champion award in 2022. "It wouldn't have been possible without Betsy's guidance and encouragement."
Elizabeth Schalmo, parent to three Junior Master Gardener Program members, also appreciates Cranston's dedication to teaching children about gardening.
"Betsy has done so much for my kids. She's freely given her time and talents to teach the kids how to grow amazing gardens," said Schalmo. "She is so patient with the kids. She's worked hours and hours with them so they can experience showing at the Iowa State Fair. We are so blessed to have her in Poweshiek County."
"We appreciate Betsy's outstanding commitment to serving the 4-H youth in Poweshiek County," said Mitchell Hoyer, 4-H Youth Development interim state program leader. "By utilizing hands-on learning experiences, Betsy helps youth build and apply new skills. The reflection process as part of learning encourages young people to make strong connections with their community and future."
The Poweshiek County Fair has also benefited from Cranston, who served as the rabbit superintendent from 2002 to 2015 and the poultry superintendent from 2015 through 2017. Not only did Cranston help set up the barns, create classes and help organize the show, but she also took it upon herself to help the 4-H exhibitors become better producers by holding workshops where they can learn how to care for their animals, inspect them for illness and showcase them to a judge.
In Poweshiek County, many consider Cranston the "go-to person" for her expertise in horticulture, poultry and rabbit project areas. She and her husband, Donny Cranston, reside in Deep River, Iowa. They have three children, Katie, Brett and Kendra, who share Cranston's passion for agriculture and helping those around them learn. When she is not volunteering for 4-H, the county fair or Master Gardeners, Cranston works full-time for the University of Iowa Hospital.
Cranston's generous dedication and expertise helped the youth in her 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program succeed this year at the Iowa State Fair.
The Junior Master Gardener Program received the Grand Champion purple ribbon for their county vegetable platter of cucumbers, onions, peppers, squash and tomatoes grown on their plot at the Poweshiek County Fairgrounds. Club members Carleigh Klein, Rosie Leasure, Hanna McCue, Slane McCue, Cora Schalmo, Grace Schalmo and William Schalmo also received numerous Grand Champion and Reserve Champion ribbons for their herbs and vegetables.
In addition, William Schalmo (fifth) and Grace Schalmo (ninth) were recognized as top individual junior gardeners in the state. Klein McCue and Hanna McCue also earned recognition as first-year exhibitors.
"The skills these junior gardeners are learning will serve them well in the future," said Hoyer, who is a parent of a former junior master gardener. "I can think of 4-H alumni who came through this event, who have their own farms and gardens and participate heavily in farmers markets. They have gone on to great things in the industry, and I suspect that some of these participants will do that as well."
"Winning is nice, but that's not why I'm in Junior Master Gardeners," said Hanna McCue. "It's fun, and I'm learning skills I can use in the real world."
"It takes a lot of work – and a little bit of luck from Mother Nature – to get your vegetables, exhibits and specimens here at the State Fair," said Hoyer. "I appreciate the work you all went through, and I hope you're proud of your accomplishments."
Though the competition season has ended, the Poweshiek County 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program garden continues to produce plenty of vegetables. The club still meets regularly to harvest and to prepare garden beds for winter.
For more information on the Iowa 4-H Youth Development program or to inquire about involvement in Junior Master Gardeners or other horticulture programs, please contact your ISU Extension and Outreach county office or visit the Iowa 4-H website at https://www.extension.iastate.edu/4h/.
Sharable photos and captions
- 4-H Youth Development interim state program leader Mitchell Hoyer (left) presents Betsy Cranston, Poweshiek County 4-H Junior Master Gardener program leader, with the Superintendent's Special Award for her contributions to youth horticulture in Iowa at the 4-H Junior Horticulture award ceremony in the Agriculture Building at the Iowa State Fair on August 12.
- Poweshiek County 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program members pose with their Grand Champion County Vegetable Platter in the Junior Horticulture competition in the Agricultural Building at the Iowa State Fair on August 12: (left to right): Seeger McCue, Hanna McCue, Rosie Leasure, Slane McCue, William Schalmo, Grace Schalmo, Cora Schalmo, Betsy Cranston, Carleigh Klein, and Jacob Klein.
- Current and former Poweshiek County 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program members pose with program leader Betsy Cranston and 4-H Youth Development interim state program leader Mitchell Hoyer after Cranston received the Superintendent's Special Award at the Iowa State Fair 4-H Junior Horticulture award ceremony on August 12: (left to right) Mitchell Hoyer, Betsy Cranston, Hanna McCue, Slane McCue, Seeger McCue, Rosie Leasure, Carleigh Klein, Grace Schalmo, William Schalmo and Thea Larsson.