It’s fair season and I’m curious – is there one near you and do you attend?

The Virginia State Fair was a highlight of my childhood, an event only outdone by my family’s visit one time to the Iowa State Fair , where we saw Roy Rogers in person!

Since growing up and moving to a relatively big city, fairs were off my radar entirely, until I happened upon a good county fair – surprisingly in Montgomery County just outside D.C.

With the extremely high cost of land in the county, how could agriculture still be a thing there? I asked Washington Gardener editor Kathy Jentz, who explained that MoCo has a huge agricultural reserve  (93,000 acres, about a third of all count land) that ensures we’ll always have lots of farm land and farmers.  Kathy also says she’s seeing more participation by urban farms and home gardeners.

It’s a Farm Animal Show

This fair was started in 1945 for the purpose of “allowing 4-H members to exhibit their prize livestock, garden and home economics projects to the community” and to this day it’s where farm kids go to do just that. (Source – History of the fair.)

I wish I could enjoy the animals the way I did as a kid, though. These days I can’t help thinking of the final solution for those pigs, beef cows and “meat goats” especially. I will admit to enjoying the pig races, where the most fun is watching the kids watch them.

In our digital age these activities all seem all so outdated, so quaint, so Mayberry, but I’m so glad they still exist. Sure there aren’t as many exhibitors and competitors as back in the day when most of the schools in the county had 4-H programs, but still Kathy says the numbers seem to be holding steady. Even close to the Washington Beltway, some kids are growing up on farms and joining 4-H.

It’s a Midway

In my youth and even decades later I was an avid rider of rides, sometimes winning bets from friends for riding the scariest. Yeah, no more of that. But y’all have fun, okay? I’ll hold your backpacks.

It’s “Grandstand Events”

Sorry I wasn’t there for the lawn-mower racing, which I know that you crazy Rant readers would have loved seeing.

And can anyone explain what on earth a “Touch-a-Truck Event” is? Not it’s just one of the three kinds of truck events, because you can never have enough of them, I guess.

It’s a Vegetable Competition

Here’s just some of the tomatoes entered in the competition. I wondered what criteria the judges use and Kathy had answers straight from a judge (Miriam Mahowald) who spoke to the Silver Spring Garden Club.

First, this fair asks for five of each item item.  a Master Gardener and veteran Fair judge, recently spoke to the Silver Spring Garden Club. She offered these tips (quoting from Kathy’s write-up):

  • Check for disease and insect damage
  • Avoid any obvious holes or bites, the main key in judging across all categories being uniformity. For instance, if a category calls for five carrots, all five should be of the same length and approximate girth.
  • If you are entering peas, they should all have the same number inside the pod and for sweet peppers they should all be either three-lobed or four-lobed.
  • Big is not necessarily better
  • You can trim the stem ends of veggies such as beans.
  • For cabbages, leave the outer, guard leaves on. Many entrants pull those off as they are not as pristine as the rest of the head, but judges will deduct points for that and they want to see the full heads.

The first year that Kathy ever competed, she entered her cherry tomatoes and reported that “My cherry tomatoes did not win, place, or show. Nor did anyone get to eat and enjoy them as at the end of the Fair week because they were infested with flies and I just had them composted. I think I’m giving up on this category and sticking with flowers for the next few years.”

It’s a Flower Competition

Next, Kathy tried entering flowers in the competition. From her report about the ribbons she won:

One first place ribbon I earned was for the Aster category. I had submitted one of my New England Aster blooms. When I arrived at the fair check-in table, the aster flowers had curled into tight, little balls and were swooning in the hot, humid evening air. I did have them in water, but they still were wilted and looked awful. Since I’d come all that way, I decide why not enter them and hope they came back by judging time 36 hours later. Taking that chance paid off.

Again I can’t help but wonder how they judge – from single flowers.

The arrangements and potted plants I’d happily judge. I seem to remember that back in the ’90s I helped enter some arrangements and pots on behalf of the Takoma Horticulture Club.

Why NOT Enter?

Kathy has been told that “all fairs are really hurting for entries and I should put some cut flowers in, so I did. It was easy and free. This fair gave a few dollars per ribbon awarded so I could splurge on some funnel cake with my earnings check.”

She also learned that even though I’ve moved to an adjacent county I could still enter this one, and she in mine. In fact, she was “begged to enter” my county’s fair a few years ago as they had “almost zero entries.” She did and won, “but felt bad competing out of my county.”

It looks like somebody should get on social media and encourage gardeners in my county to enter –  somebody like me.

Source of photos with kids – MoCty Fair Instagram and Facebook.