Finding room to house all of her creative arts entries for the State Fair of Virginia can be challenging at times for Lynda Grainger. She’s been entertaining the competition for about fifteen years.
“I started doing it because my mom was really interested in it, and she loved taking pride in entering and winning ribbons,” says Grainger who lives in Henrico.
Grainger has won over one hundred ribbons, more than seventy first-place awards, and at least five Best in Category commendations.
“It’s a personal challenge for me,” she says about the competition. “It’s fun going to the fair and seeing how many ribbons I have won.”
The competitions at the Fair are popular with both entrants and visitors to the annual event. The Fair has been holding competitions since the 1800s. This year, it has over twenty departments with more than 3,000 different competitions within departments.
The variety of competitions is broad-ranging, from creative arts and horticulture to livestock and vocational youth competitions, such as cosmetology and beef cattle shows. Some of the most popular categories include creative arts and culinary arts.
“Our livestock category is also very big, especially for youth,” says the Fair’s competitions manager, Stuart Sanders. “We have given out a lot of scholarships.”
The State Fair of Virginia Youth Scholarship Program spreads across thirty-five different competition areas. “Since 2013, we have awarded over $375,000 in scholarships via 500 individual scholarships,” Sanders says. “We have had some kids who have done a very good job of being earning quite a bit of money to go toward their college expenses.”
The horticulture competitions draw entries from many families. “It’s nice to see people come back year after year,” Sanders says. “It’s a nice tradition in families.”
The Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off competition is a fan favorite each year. Pumpkin growers from around the state truck their huge pumpkins to the fair. “We take them out with a forklift,” Sanders says, noting a grower in Thornburg set the current record in 2015 with a pumpkin weighing in at 1,340.7 pounds.
A Mechanicsville watermelon grower took home the prize for the largest watermelon at the Giant Watermelon Weigh-Off in 2016 with a weight of 245.7 pounds.
The culinary arts category includes a variety of special competitions, some new this year. The Virginia Peanut Growers Association has a recipe contest for two groups of entrants. Adults can create their favorite tailgate recipe using peanuts, and kids have to come up with a peanut butter sandwich recipe.
The Virginia Egg Council is sponsoring Berry Delicious where entrants whip up a dish with eggs and berries. Entries must be previous county fair winners before they can be entered in the State Fair competition.
The culinary arts competition sponsored by SPAM will net the top national winner a trip to Hawaii.
Grainger is excited about entering the new Flea Market Flip competition where people can go out and purchase or find an item under $100 to repurpose. “The top ten items will be on display during the Fair and the winner will be determined by the voting public,” Sanders says.
Before and after photos must be submitted by September 7. Entries will be based on originality and general appearance. The winner will receive $150.
Sanders keeps a pulse on what competitions are trending within the fair circuit. “The fair industry is pretty close-knit. We have a convention every year where we can see what other fairs are doing,” she says. “We also try to look and see what our people are getting into, what’s the fad. We add competitions each year.”
There are always so many “unique and interesting this things entered each year,” Sanders adds. “We look forward to a great year and are excited about all of the new competitions we are offering.”
The full 2018 competition guidelines are online. Most entries are due September 7, but check specific information for each category.