Niki Turner
Contributing Writer
Rifle, CO Colorado

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July 25, 2012
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County Fair: Fair is your opportunity to showcase your accomplishments

You know those mouth-watering homemade chocolate chip cookies your friends and family keep begging you to make? Or that quilting project you (finally) finished and are so proud of? Or those garden vegetables you've cultivated all summer? The open class division at the Garfield County Fair is your opportunity to showcase your accomplishments.

While 4-H and FFA members have been working on their fair projects for months, open class exhibits offer the opportunity for anyone, young or old, to take part in the fun.

Categories range from baked goods, to displays of noxious weeds, to leather crafts, furniture, pottery, canned goods, wine, needlework, quilting, crochet, paintings, photography and flower arrangements. Jellies, jams, pickles, granola and jerky all have a place in the open class division.

Even if you don't garden, if you can turn store-bought veggies into an attractive presentation, or carve them into interesting shapes, there's an open class for that too.

"If you make something, bring it to the fair," said Mary Jo Gerard of Gypsum.

Gerard has served as a judge at the Garfield County Fair for more than 10 years, offering her discriminating eye to the open class exhibit entries.

"If you have something you want to learn about, the fair is a great place to ask questions like 'why didn't my bread rise?' You can learn a lot at the fair," she added.

Each category in the open class has set criteria, listed in the Garfield County Fair Book. Judges for each category use those criteria to determine the best entries in each group.

For example, canned goods are judged on how well they are sealed, whether the packaging is appropriate, and the appearance and consistency of the contents.

Yum-yum fun

Judging a cookie entry is much more complicated than just gobbling cookies off a plate.

"First, I look to see that the cookies are all uniform in size," Gerard explained. "Then I turn them over to see if they are all evenly browned on the bottoms. If you've got a hot spot in your oven they won't brown evenly, no matter what kind of pan you use."

Depending on the type of cookie, Gerard checks for consistency (are the chocolate chips, or raisins, evenly spaced throughout?), and texture (crisp or soft?). If the cookie is supposed to be a soft, moist cookie, but Gerard can poke her finger in it and leave a dent, "it's probably not quite done."

"Then I taste just a crumb, just the baked dough part. And finally, I try a bite of the whole cookie. I make my decision from there," she said.

This year Gerard is judging the canned goods division, but during her tenure as a fair judge, she's judged just about every category. "I used to say, 'Put it in front of me and I'll judge it,'" she said. "I can remember years I'd judge the whole fair.

"One year I judged the apple pie contest. We had about 30 pies to judge. I don't think I've eaten apple pie since."

Another year she judged canned fish. "What I would have given for some crackers and chopped onions," she said.

Nowadays the county commissioners have taken over the apple pie judging, and Gerard is glad for their interest and participation. The commissioners also judge the "Commissioner's Cookie Jar" contest.

In the past few years, Gerard said, there have been more entries in new categories. "We're seeing more things like honey, wine, beer and ale. It's a great thing."

For details on the open classes and what is required to submit an entry, download a copy of the fair book at

Then gather all your entries and submit them to the open class exhibits at the fair. There are deadlines for the entries, so make sure you get your entries to the fairgrounds in the allotted time frames.

"It's very important that you read the fair book and follow the guidelines," Gerard said.

So whip up a batch of that special banana bread, pull out a jar of your special chokecherry jelly, or finish up that that craft project, get it in fine form for presentation, and take it to the fair.

You might be able to add "blue-ribbon winner" to your resume.

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The Post Independent Updated Jul 25, 2012 11:29PM Published Jul 25, 2012 06:59PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.