By Polly Keary, Editor
Blue ribbons are nice. Purple ones are better.
While a blue ribbons is the traditional award for a winning entry in the fair, a purple one means Best of Show, or the best of the winning entries.
Now two women, Kathleen Wright and Stephanie Hagarty, who have bestowed those awards on many winners over the years-and won a few themselves-are giving a class to the public on how to rack up blue ribbons, and maybe even the coveted purple.
Kathleen Wright started out at the Evergreen State Fair as an observer.
“I was one of those people who went to the fair every year but never entered, until I met Stephanie,” said Wright. “She told me how easy was, and I entered.”
A stay-at-home mom, she was excited that there was an event that celebrated the kinds of skills she had, and the values that went with them.
She was a very good canner. And she liked to bake, too.
So she entered some canned mustard greens and some apricot jam.
She got a blue ribbon for the jam. The mustard greens got disqualified. She hadn’t followed the rules closely enough for those, neglecting to process them long enough.
Both experiences were motivating.
“It’s not all blue ribbons,” she said. “It’s white ribbons, or red ones, or disqualification. But it’s all a learning experience.”
She kept entering year after year, and then 20 years ago become a volunteer. Finally, she became the supervisor of the entire baking division, and then the display hall coordinator for the whole fair.
In about 1998, she and Hagarty began to notice that there were lots of people who didn’t know how easy it was to enter things in the fair.
So they decided to offer free classes to the community on how to enter things at the fair, and also how to do well.
Just about anyone with a hobby can enter it in the fair, Wright noted.
There are 29 open class divisions, which anyone can enter. A number are for things pretty lifestyle-specific, like dairy cows or grange displays, but most are more accessible to the general public.
Among those are sewing, baking, photography, crafts and hobbies, and floriculture.
In each division are many categories.
For example, in the crafts and hobbies division, there is a category for things made of wood, and under that are subcategories for chainsaw carvings, figures, hand-carvings and more. There are even categories for steam punk crafts, things made of Legos, and pop can art.
In fact, there are thousands of categories and subcategories in which to enter animal, vegetable or mineral and just about any combination thereof, ensuring that nearly everyone does something that could be entered.
Once a person has identified a category and subcategory he or she would like to enter, such as, say, matted black and white photo of an animal, in the junior amateur class, then one has to figure out the rules.
That can take a bit of doing. There is a lot of fine print. The rules are all online, and can be found by going to evergreenfair.org, clicking on Fair and selecting Competitive Exhibits from a drop-down menu. From there, click Open Class Departments, then find the desired department, such as photography or food preservation, which includes canning.
A PDF file opens, and there are both general rules and the rules for the specific contests.
The general rules have to do with admissions, parking, a bit about the role of the superintendent and the judges, and so on.
Then under the specific department, the rules state what day and time the entries are accepted, and where they are to be left, as well as the entry fee, if any; most contests are free to enter.
The first to be accepted are beverages. Those are entered July 28 and 29. Most are entered in the days right before the fair begins. Flowers are last; they are entered during the fair itself.
The rules also detail how an entry has to be presented. It is by not reading these rules that some people find themselves disqualified. For instance, to enter a cookie contest, a person has to include a certain number of cookies, and also a recipe card listing all the ingredients, the baking and mixing instructions, and the yield.
Certain ingredients that can’t be refrigerated, such as cream cheese, can get the entry disqualified too.
Fortunately, Wright and Hagarty will help people who attend the upcoming classes to understand the requirements for entering in their category. And the phone numbers of the superintendents of each division are listed along with the rules.
“If anyone has any questions, call the superintendents,” said Wright. “All of us are available, especially this time of year.”
Most people want to know more than just how to make sure they’ve followed all the rules, Wright said. They want to know how to impress the judges.
Wright and Hagarty can help with that, too.
The Evergreen Fair has two judging systems. First, all the entries are judged on the Danish system. That means that they aren’t judged against each other. Rather, they are judged against a standard established ahead of time by the judges.
For example, cookies are judged half on appearance and texture and half on flavor.
The ribbons are typically stickers affixed to the entry labels. Blue means it’s excellent, red means good, white means fair.
There are even small cash awards that go with the ribbons. They vary by department, but for cookies, for example, a blue ribbon is worth $3 and a blue ribbon for bread is worth $5. “You get that little check, and that offsets part of your expenses, your baking and your gas and your trip to the fair,” said Wright.
And perhaps more valuable, there is a score sheet that goes along with the award, explaining the reasoning for the entry’s score.
Then, the blue ribbon winners are judged by the American system, or against each other. The winner in each category is given a merit ribbon, and those with merit ribbons are judged against all the others in the department.
The winner of the department gets a big purple ribbon for Best of Show. That can mean it was the best of more than 800 or so entries.
Winning ribbons is a satisfying thing, said Wright.
“It’s really important to people,” she said. “It’s what we do. It’s who we are. Sometimes we’ll see that a person won a blue ribbon for an apple pie or for flowers in their obituary.”
And those who win the big purple ribbons usually display them, said Wright; she’s got a few, including one for her pickled carrots.
Even better, she’s made friends at the fair that she might never have met otherwise, she said.
Participating in the fair as an entrant or a volunteer, doing a four-hour shift is very rewarding, and ribbons are only a part of it, she said.
“Just bring something and try it, and see what happens,” she said.
The classes on how to enter items in the fair are focused mainly on baking and food preservation, but will be relevant to anyone wanting to enter. They will take place Thursday, July 25 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 27 at 10 a.m. in Building 500 on the fairgrounds at door F. The class is about an hour long and there is no cost.