Field Days judges face tough task in ribbon decision-making
NEW HAVEN — The paths and boulevards of the county fairgrounds were empty last Monday; Addison County Fair and Field Days didn’t open to the public until Tuesday.
But the Home and Garden Building was bustling with activity.
With display shelves full of produce, knitwear and baked goods to taste or examine, judging in the annual fair competitions started shortly after noon and continued into the evening.
Each category was slightly different — in the yeast breads category, texture, flavor and crumb were all factors in the judging, while quilting judges looked for precision, borders and the intricacy of the pattern. In the open and unclassified category, the judges were alternately amused, impressed and surprised by the submissions they came across, which included a torso-sized welded metal sun, a two-story dollhouse and a vase of duct-tape roses. Some of the submissions were marked “recycled” — one of the subcategories in the open and unclassified division.
Cheryl Connor, one of the judges in that category, said each year is an adventure — they never know what submissions they will get.
“This is a very interesting category,” she said.
In the rug-hooking category, Linda Pitkin and Nancy Jewett surveyed fewer than 10 entries, which they said were impressive.
Jewett, who has been hooking rugs for 12 years, said it was her first year judging. The judging involved looking at the color, design and creativity of the piece — one was a rooster design, with colorful bunches of yarn flowing out of the rug from the tail area, and one was a cat and a dog mat on a fabric background of brown plaid.
Jewett said her major focus was to offer encouragement in the comments on the back of each submission card — she’s eager to see people picking up and honing their skills creating artistic rugs and mats.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “You want to be fair, and you want them to continue submitting.”
Over in the produce department, Brad Koehler of Windfall Orchard in Cornwall examined multicolored carrots, beets, squash and one pumpkin with a green-bean smile — the lone entry in the “decorated vegetables” category.
Koehler acknowledged that the produce he awards the most points to aren’t necessarily the ones that others would choose — he looks at the produce from the perspective of his many years as a chef, so he favors the smaller, more uniform specimens, while another year a produce judge might favor larger specimens.
Still, he said, “each (entry) is judged on its own merits.”
This was a common refrain throughout the building — the contest runs on the “Danish system,” whereby entries aren’t judged against each other, but rather on their own quality and merit. This way, all entries into a category could get a blue ribbon, or a red ribbon, or a white ribbon.
Judges in each category were also keeping an eye out for their favorite entries. After the judging was complete they would congregate in their various overall categories (handicrafts, food, flower show, art and photography and garden products) and argue for their favorites, handing out rosettes for the best youth and adult entrants.
This, said Martha Winant, can be a very difficult process. This year, she judged the yeast breads category, but she remembered one year when her favorite cake was a lemon chiffon, and the other judges were holding out for various other favorite confections. That, she said, was a tough decision because the baked goods were so varied.
But awarding rosettes, tasting a variety of products and working with all the other judges is a great experience, said Winant.
“We all come from different places.”
And Sandie Garthaffner, a judge for the apple baked goods competition, said the food samples are always impressive: “We’ve got a lot of good cooks in Addison County.”
Some events have changed over time — Lydia Busier and Laura Begnoche said they submitted pickles, jellies and other canned goods for years, but they judge the event now.
“I’ve gotten my blue ribbons — now it’s other people’s turns,” said Busier.
She said they can no longer taste the canned goods due to safety concerns, but that they look at appearance, produce used, and the consistency of the submissions. Usually, they can guess at what the food will taste like by looking at the recipe.
Busier said she’s heartened by the fact that each year, there are more submissions in the canning category.
“Canning is strong in Vermont,” she said.
Bethany Barry, who was judging the beadwork category, said it’s her third year judging at the fair. At one point in the afternoon, she was examining four necklaces and one napkin-holder constructed from wires and beads, looking for the intricacy of the design, the functionality and look, and the clasp where applicable.
She said it’s always enjoyable to see all the different pieces people submit to the show.
“This is a great community event,” Barry said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].
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