County or state fairs bring up many images. The smell of corn dogs and soft pretzels; the view of an exhibitor walking out of the show ring with a beautiful animal and clutching that blue ribbon; the rows of crafts and vendors selling a variety of products. Why not take the step to exhibiting?
Most fairs will, in advance of the event, have a premium book available. These contain the rules for entry, the requirements for display, and information about entry fees, premiums paid and other general information. Generally you will need to buy an exhibitor’s ticket. If you have livestock obviously you will have to be there each day – but if you enter canned goods or crafts or other items you may or may not be able to be there for judging and don’t have to be there daily.
There are so many possibilities for things to enter it can be overwhelming! Think about your hobbies and what you do. Are you canning salsa or ice cream toppings from mixed berries? Can a couple special jars for exhibit at the fair! Do you enjoy photography? Pick out some special photos to display. Are you making lap quilts, or soap, or wood decorative items for gifts? Enter them in the fair! One year the gift I’d made for someone for Christmas had been entered in a fair and won – I gave it to the recipient with the blue ribbon – an extra touch for no additional money. If you enjoy baking or making candy test your skills against others – there’s often plenty of room at the judging table there in many areas. Do you do cake decorating – or have a garden of beautiful produce, or a hive that produces honey? All of these things have categories to be entered.
Usually animals will need to have health tests – for example poultry must have current health papers. Cattle or sheep must have proper paperwork and health papers. Rabbits sometimes have a American Rabbit Breeders sanctioned show and sometimes don’t – check the rules carefully. Your crossbred rabbits will probably be eliminated from that competition but for shows not ARBA sanctioned there’s plenty of room for a judge’s opinion.
Do you feel you have the cleanest hay in the county? The best display of grains? Enter it! For gardeners – there are usually specific ways the rules will call for to be displayed. It might be requiring carrots to have tops no longer or shorter than a certain amount, or five green beans on a paper plate, or three peppers. When choosing your garden entry think uniform – you want the display to look as uniform as possible. The beans should be the same size; the peppers the same color and size; corn ears of the same size. Pretty counts – and is an extra consideration in addition to the pantry full of produce you have at home!
Photography exhibits usually have many divisions – there’s black and white, color and computer enhanced. Often there’s a list of categories – portrait, landscape or scenic, animals, snapshots, commercial etc. There are different categories also for paintings and drawings – oil, watercolor, charcoal might be some listed.
With most fairs the premium book will list when the items must be checked in . This is the time they must be at the fairgrounds; make a note for some entries when that is in relation to the judging. Don’t cut it too close! If the time is no later than 6:00 pm don’t show up with a car load of entries at 5:50 – while you’ll get them it it’s somewhat inconsiderate to those doing the check-in, and if it’s done in more than one place something might not get in. For exhibits like artwork or crafts getting there early can be good – your item gets an early good spot for viewing. For some other things balance it accordingly. For example if the check-in is before 5 pm and the flowers won’t be judged until 3 the next day – you might plan on arriving around 4 – plenty of time to check in but also attempting to maximize the freshness of the cut flowers you’re displaying.
And take caution when transporting! Remember – appearance counts. Choosing beautiful cosmos flowers and displaying them as required is less important if the stems are crushed or a petal is torn while shipping them in. You don’t want your wonderful tray of tempting cookies broken or the frosted cake squished!
Check the premium book to see what the rules are for judging – some you’re allowed to be there, sometimes not. If possible to do so watch the judging – you might learn tricks and tips, or gather display hints. You might hear comments in the canning of too much or not enough headroom; or off color of baked goods. Whether it’s yours or not, and without condemning the person entering it – watching that and taking mental notes can make your entries even better next year!
For animals there’s another wide range of entries possible. You might have a goat doe and her daughters – which can be entered in their respective classes as well as, if offered, dam and daughter, or best 3 head, or bred by exhibitor (if you bred them). And don’t overlook the practical competition – if there’s a milking competition enter that. After all – you’re producing for the table so efficiency counts. Sheep fleeces, cheese, jerky and many other things are means of competition in some fairs.
Competing at a fair can add some fun to the fair experience and perhaps you’ll learn something to make your home produced goods even better than they are now. It’s a fun way to compete with something that you’re probably doing anyway.