State Fair competitions offer blue-ribbon bragging rights

Published 2:30 pm Wednesday, June 29, 2022

If you want to win blue-ribbon bragging rights, then it’s time to start working on entries for this year’s State Fair of Virginia competitions.

Competition guides with entry deadlines and category descriptions for culinary and creative arts and horticulture entries are now online at StateFairVa. org.

Each year, hundreds of Virginians enter the competitions, and their entries are displayed during the fair. Some categories offer winners small cash prizes in addition to bragging-right ribbons. But it’s the blue ribbons that many competitors care about the most.

Ten-time ribbon winner Traci Garland said she likes to work “I’m a State Fair blue-ribbon winner” into conversations.

“It’s pretty awesome” to say those words, admitted Garland, who used to admire the winning entries at the fair but didn’t think she could participate because she lives in Richmond.

“One year, it dawned on me that I could,” shared Garland, who has competed since 2016. At the time, her daughter was 4 years old and enjoyed helping in their backyard garden and the kitchen. “I thought it might be fun to try canning with her.”

The duo made a green tomato and apple chutney that Garland entered in the open preserved foods category. She won a blue ribbon for it and has been “hooked ever since.” When Garland’s daughter was older, she entered the State Fair youth baking competition and won a red ribbon for her carrot cake.

State Fair arts and crafts, culinary and horticulture competitions are for anyone — artists, bakers, crafters, gardeners, plant experts, row crop farmers and more. There are categories for both adults and youth.

“Some people think you have to win at a county fair before you can compete at the state fair, but that’s a misnomer,” said Sarah Jane Thomsen, the fair’s manager of agriculture education and strategic programming partnerships. “Anyone can enter the arts and crafts, culinary and horticulture competitions if they meet the criteria.”

And participants in the competitions contribute to the fair’s mission of educating the public about agriculture and drawing connections to where fairgoers’ food is grown.

“A lot of people aren’t exposed to crops and plants like those displayed in the horticulture tent,” shared Lynwood Broaddus, a Caroline County farmer and frequent horticulture competitor. “But people are really interested in where their food comes from, and if they can see the commodities in person, it helps them make a connection.”

On Broaddus’ Spring Hill Farms, he and his son and brother grow wheat, rye and barley. For the past few years, they have entered samples of those crops in the horticulture competitions. He and his wife, Becky, also enter plants and vegetables from their backyard garden.

Over the past five years, the Broadduses have received more than 100 ribbons, with a third of them blue.