Fair judging

Ruth Johnson, a Lawrence County Fair judge of 10 years, samples one of the tableful of cookies as she tries to determine the top prize winner.

Today may be opening day of the Lawrence County Fair, but the fairgrounds have been a buzz of activity for weeks.

Saturday appeared to be the busiest day prior to the gates opening to the public.

As maintenance vehicles and workers rushed around putting last minute touches on the fairgrounds, hundreds of volunteers prepared displays, decorated buildings and assisted in the various judging. And no place was more busy the Home Economics and Hay and Grain buildings. When early morning came to the barns they were empty, but by Saturday night both buildings were full of crafts, baked goods, flowers, canned goods, quilts, grains, photographs and a variety of other creative and gardening endeavors.

Intake began at 8 a.m. as cars began pouring into the fairgrounds loaded with entrants and their hopefully-soon-to-be-prize-winning items.

Bobbie-Jo Morrison, a fifth grader at Laurel Elementary School, was there to enter her chocolate fudge. Morrison has been a regular contestant at the fair, entering rabbits and pigs over several years. She is also a member of 4H and has several craft items entered. Morrison said she entered her fudge “because last year there wasn’t much fudge, and I make a pretty good fudge so I decided to make fudge because i thought I might win.”

By 11 a.m. tables were filled with the various entries, and judges began their task of awarding the ribbons. Ruth Johnson of Laurel has been a food judge for more than a decade now.

“It’s lots of fun," she said. :You get to taste all the different foods, and you get to see the great people you work with year after year too.”

Deborah Houston has been the director of the home economics building for five years. She says it seems that entries are down some this year.

“People are so much busier now than they were in years past. They don’t take time to can and cook and craft like they used to. It really is unfortunate,” she said.

“Different categories fluctuate from year to year as well. Last year, the Virginia Worrall Memorial baking category only drew five entries; this year the table is full. Ceramics seem to have come back really strong this year, and knitting and crocheting have been rising the last several years.”

Pat Stewart is the director of the flowers and vegetables. She also has seen a decrease in entries, but believes it is only temporary.

“Everything is down due to the weather, I am sure,” Stewart said. “All the rain and bad storms have made it almost impossible to get good flowers, and so many of the farmers had to plant so late. Some may not have gotten to plant at all.”

One category new to the Flower Barn is the Fairy Garden category. According to Stewart, this category has been talked about for several years. A fairy garden is a display in miniature, featuring little figurines, cars, buildings and plants to create a living scene. Some might include water, miniature people, gnomes, farm equipment etc., but each must contain real living plants. There were nearly a dozen entries in this new category.

No new categories made their way to the Home Economics building this year.

“I mean chocolate is chocolate. You just can’t get any better than chocolate. How would you improve on that?” Houston said with a chuckle.

In truth, food categories covered many categories well beyond chocolate. One of the most intriguing was the Bacon Lovers contest sponsored by Weber Catering and Whiting Family Foods and Meats.

According to Michonda Weber of Weber Catering, “We wanted to sponsor a fun contest and we thought this would be really neat. It promotes agriculture, produce, farming, our catering business, the 4H, and everybody’s favorite, bacon. It is just a great fit with the fair.”

Entries in the contest included maple bacon ice cream, chocolate bacon fudge, bacon cupcakes, bacon dips and a variety of other creative uses for bacon.

To prevent spoilage, all the baked goods are sold after judging in an impromptu bake sale. All the money from the sale benefits improvements and upgrades to both buildings. New wooden display shelves and better sight lines for displays are evidence of the work accomplished by the sales. In addition to benefitting the buildings, the sale prevents a waste of food that used to take place as the initially edible entries deteriorated while on display for a week.

“Ribbons and names are on display for all to see," Houston said, "but knowing all these great desserts have been taken home and enjoyed by the purchasers makes everybody feel much better than seeing spoiled food on shelves late next week."

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