Reclaim the County Fair

County fairs were originally for showcasing heirloom produce, not bumper cars and cotton candy, and it’s about time to remind people.

  • Produce Display
    County fairs are the perfect place to show off your extraordinary produce, whether you grow huge pumpkins or incredibly tasty zucchinis.
    Photo courtesy
  • County Fair Ribbons
    Your county fair is the place to go if you are looking for recognition for your hard work, or to see the hard work of other gardeners and farmers.
    Photo courtesy

  • Produce Display
  • County Fair Ribbons
The night was cool and rainy, making the wait for the 4-H project release not nearly as enjoyable as years past. As the evening wore on, my siblings and I became quite restless. Suddenly I noticed the barn next to our tent. A light was shining from an open door beckoning me to enter.

As I stepped through the doorway, my mind was overwhelmed by what lay before me. The building shut out the garish noise of the fairgrounds and replaced it with a muted quietness. The smell of the flower exhibit reached out to me from the far end of the hall; the scent of marigolds still makes me long for fair time. The baked goods lining the wall caused my mouth to water, not unlike the aroma wafting from the roasted-corn stand.

The picket points of the fence were under the palms of my hands, keeping homegrown treasures just out of my reach. Those colorful fruits and vegetables depicted their own version of the rainbow. As I delighted in the full sensual experience of the displays, I realized I had found a way to continue to learn and share, even as an adult.

As an active 4-H member, I had always enjoyed friendly competition. I have shown for many years but now, I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend: While gardening is on the rise, fair exhibits have been on a steady decline. County fairs were originally created for exhibitions and are now more focused on carnival rides and commercial endeavors — what an unfortunate state of affairs. I propose that we take back the county fair by sharing the heirloom produce and flowers we cherish and enjoy.

Planning & Preparation

First things first: Do you have your county fair exhibit book? Sometimes referred to as a premium book, this is the ultimate authority to showing anything at your fair. Within its pages are the class specification and divisions, rules, and both local and state regulations. Read and understand what is expected and plan to follow those expectations exactly. The book also lets you know what categories are available for you to enter. Some counties have printed books but more times than not, the Internet will be your ultimate source.

To enter, you need to determine if you actually qualify. In my area of Michigan, the county to the east requires you live in that county in order to exhibit. The west county is open to whoever would like to show. Rumor has it there are folks from Ohio who compete there. The question of entry fees is also an option to consider. Some are free and some ask a small amount, usually per item shown. The monies collected are usually added to the open class “fund” to continue supporting the exhibits and premiums.

You may want to visit neighboring fairs and talk to other exhibitors. Ask questions—gardeners and county fair enthusiasts are usually quite willing to share information. Study their produce displays and try to discern what makes a winning entry.



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