AS A TEENAGER, I RAISED RABBITS FOR 4-H. Every year, I would enter them in the Summit County fair as I grew up in Green on a small farm. My bunnies would be judged, and I would receive ribbons and trophies. I still remember the “Best Opposite Sex” for Buck, my New Zealand White buck, and “Best Doe and Litter” trophies I won. I learned many lessons while showing my rabbits. One is that you can’t display your ribbons on the cage’s outside as the rabbits will eat them (munch munch munch). Second, rabbits moved to a new strange home with lots of noise will get stressed and bite (specifically on the fleshy area between the thumb and pointer finger). Lastly, and most importantly, competition helps one to strive to be better.
Many years ago, I entered some of my produce into the Portage County Randolph Fair. It’s pretty standard, as far as fairs go. There are demolition derbies, country/western concerts, tractor pulls, 4-H exhibits, fair food (which is not fair for those of us trying to eat healthy), and local vendor displays. Of course, entering vegetables, canned goods, and photos does feel a little childish but these are in ADULT categories, so maybe not. And with the adult entries is prize money; enough to pay for your $5 admission to see if you won.
“It’s better to look good than feel good.”
Most judging is done on how the entries look. Some canned goods and baked goods will be taste tested but vegetables will not. So, how do they determine who’s the best? By what I call the “supermarket test”. If your entries look like you bought them from the store, then you’ll win.
I think people get too hung up on size (bigger is better). If I have five nearly identical potatoes and my competition has one or two giants and several others that don’t match, I’m going to win. Unless the category is “Biggest Pumpkin” or “Largest Tomato”, just make sure your veggies are good enough to buy and eat. Just don’t enter purchased produce. That’s called “cheating”. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.
This excerpt from the Portage County Fair Book says it best:
“Judging is performed and ribbons awarded based on but not limited to the entry’s uniformity, market quality, neatness, freshness, cleanliness and if the entry qualifies for its section and class.”
One other piece of advice I wished someone would have told me is if you are entering kale or Swiss chard, bring vases to put their stems into. A week of hot steamy summer weather will wilt otherwise beautiful leaves. There’s nothing sadder than shriveled up plants which will certainly not win you any awards (unless nobody else is in your category).
Read the fair book and know your rules.
As soon as it’s available, pick up or download the official current year “Fair Book”. It will have all the rules, deadlines, and categories listed in detail. One piece of information you might find interesting is if you have to live in the fair’s county to enter. None of ours have that rule (that I know of), so if that’s the case in your area, go for it. Personally, that sounds like a lot of work. Also, make special note of the date when your entry paperwork is due (it was August 7th in 2018 for Portage County), and when you must bring in your stuff. Miss these deadlines and you will find out life is unfair (see what I did there?).
More is better
One important part of the fair book is the entry categories. These tell you all the items you can enter into the fair. Read them all; you might find a few surprises. For instance, I discovered special men’s categories for canning and baking. In 2015, I entered my canned dilly beans in the “Men’s Canning – Bean” category and won first place (against NO competition). It didn’t occur to me that I could have entered three jars of dilly beans—one in the men’s and others in canned bean and canned pickle categories. I also entered two sets of purple fingerling potatoes—one in the purple potato group and a second in the fingerling group. Using this technique of volume entering, I ended up with a whole bunch of first and second place ribbons.
When the fair is held will determine which one’s you should enter. For example, the Summit County fair is held every year in late July while Portage County is traditionally held in late August (August 20—25 here in 2019). Many more veggies will be ready for entering in a month’s time. When you turn in your entry forms, you’ll need to make judgements about what your future garden will be producing at the time of the fair. You might not have tons of tomatoes now, but you might in a few weeks. If in doubt, sign up for the category. If you don’t have something to enter at fair time, no big deal. There is no penalty for not having entries.
Have fun and brag (but not too much).
The most important rule is to have fun. You are pretty much doing all this hard work for bragging rights. People at work still talk about my award-winning dilly beans that I brought in for a potluck. Of course, some people may not want to hear you talk about your “award winning vegetables” over and over. Oh well, they’ll just have to get used to it. Or maybe they could enter their own veggies this year to quiet me down a little.