State Fair competitions offer blue-ribbon bragging rights
State Fair of Virginia arts and crafts, culinary and horticulture competitions are for anyone—artists, bakers, crafters, gardeners, plant experts, row crop farmers and more.
“The experience is so rewarding,” said Traci Garland, a Richmond native who has won 10 ribbons since first competing in 2016. At the time, her daughter was 4 years old and enjoyed helping in their backyard garden and the kitchen.
The mother-daughter 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.
“It’s amazing to go from picking the fruit with my family, to thinking up fun jam flavors, to entering in the competitions, and sometimes even winning,” Garland shared.
Each year, hundreds of Virginians enter the arts and crafts and horticulture competitions, and their entries are displayed during the fair. There are categories for both adults and youth.
Adult entry fees are $1, and some categories come with small cash prizes in addition to bragging-right ribbons.
Competition guides will be posted on the fair’s website, statefairva.org, late spring. Entry deadlines and descriptions of the categories are included in those guides.
No pre-requirements for entries
“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 making connections between where their food is grown.
Horticulture entries help connect
Fair visitors who see shiny apples, giant tobacco leaves, hardy gourds, lush plants and colorful flowers in the horticulture tent are bound to learn more about Virginia agriculture, Thomsen said.
“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.
Last year, Becky used a butterfly bush in the design for a special cut flower category. Not only did she win the blue ribbon, she won a coveted rosette as well. “She is very proud of it,” Broaddus said.
And he obviously is too, because he hung it in the middle of the fireplace mantle in their living room.