Ok, I admit it: I love county fairs. All of it – the chickens clucking in their pens, the hogs running pell-mell through the barns, the adorable dairy goats nibbling anything that walks by – it’s a slice of America everyone should experience.
For gardeners, this is the time for competition; the chase for the coveted blue ribbon. Friends gently tease each other for weeks before the event, slyly mentioning their ‘perfect entry’ kept secreted in the garden until the big day. They engage in trash talk, boast of sure-fire wins, then spend hours in quiet desperation the night before the event getting every speck of soil off the entry.
Flowers are prepped in cool rooms and water, their petals fluffed and groomed as if going to a ball. Months of practice runs designing and making floral arrangements lead up to the last moment, when you do the best you can, walk in, and push your entry across the table to be judged.
Today at the Larimer County Fair in Loveland, hopes were high as contestants brought in their produce or flowers, eyeing the competition shelved just behind the clerks’ tables. David Rubenthaler of Fort Collins was one of them. In his 11th year of competing at the fair, the tall software engineer had his hopes pinned on his green beans to win the show.
“I had a lot of great things this year, but my favorite is the green beans,” he said, “I always try to win that category and they are excellent this year. The carrots were pretty nice too, though.” Entering 33 different vegetables, Rubenthaler recalls getting soundly beaten last year, and hopes his increased entries will do better this season.
Pointing at the vegetable judging, he commented that the judge, Larry Propp, is a big reason why he keeps coming back. “Larry’s one of those guys I love to hear, he’s so knowledgeable. I took a day of vacation just to come over and listen.”
Propp is well-known to vegetable contestants in our area. For a judge, he’s very talkative, keeping up a running patter of comments on every class. Chopping and munching his way through the vegetables, he passes plate after plate of produce around the crowd, encouraging people to try the food as he critiques it. The information you get from Propp is useful in gauging your harvest, and also in picking produce at the grocer’s.
Flower enthusiasts hung on the words of judge Kate Kator, who spoke glowingly of the diminutive designs in the mini category, her nose down close to the tiny blooms. Gently touching the petal to test for freshness, she offered suggestions on improvements for each of the entries.
Larger bouquets drew Kator’s praise for their use of new varieties of Agastache in the design. Behind her, brightly golden sunflowers and dramatic spikes of gladiolus were waiting for their turn on the table. “The weather has been a bit of a problem this year for the flowers,” said Mary Monroe, co-superintendent of the show along with her husband, Bill, “we had 94 people pre-register but only 53 came in with entries.” Hail was likely the biggest culprit, Mary and Bill mused, plus endless days of wet weather.
Still, the shelves of blooms drew smiles from every passerby. And the contestants waited with baited breath to find out how their entries did, already forming plans in their head for next year’s competition.