Serve – July 2020

Get Ready for the 2021 Northwest Michigan Fair

by Gayla Elsner

I was saving some terrific salsa from last year to enter in the Northwestern Michigan Fair, but with the fair cancelled this year I popped it open to enjoy.  I’ll make an even better version this year, for 2021.  While your garden is peaking a why don’t you make some plans to be an exhibitor at next year’s Northwestern Michigan Fair?  Now is the time to decide what vegetables, fruits, flowers, and field crops to plant, to enter in the Fair.  I’m sure you are keeping track of what is working well and what you’ll do differently next year, even while you are picking, freezing and canning your harvest.

Master Gardener Volunteer and teacher Duke Elsner has gotten involved with the Fair, and yours truly is his assistant.  Duke has revised the Horticulture, Agriculture, and Floriculture categories in the premium book to update them for the varieties we grow in our home gardens now.  Another change he’s working on is allowing an additional day/time to drop off exhibits, as requested by some of the farmers, who are out in the field working on those grain entries on Saturday and would like to bring them to the Fair on Sunday. While Duke and I are not Fair Board members, we are Supervisors of the Tanner Building, so we attend meetings.  I am flabbergasted by the amount of work and planning it takes to run this excellent Fair, and how early they have to start!

Take a peek at the 2020 Fair Premium Book for some ideas.  You can find it online at   It is a PDF file. Before the pandemic, the premium book could also be picked up at various locations around town, like the County Extension Offices.  That’s not happening this year, as the premium book didn’t go to press.  The book is organized by building; look for the Tanner Building, which houses Agriculture, Horticulture, and Floriculture.  Also check out the Evelyn Heim Building. This is where the jams, jellies, and preserves are entered.  I bet you can be competitive in Culinary Arts like Food Preservation and Baked Goods.  Duke comes home from teaching Master Gardener with many tales of goodies you have made to share with your classes so I know you are wonderful bakers!  There are also categories for yard art and photography that you might be interested in entering.  Note that there are Youth and Differently Abled categories in both buildings that might be of interest to your family and friends.  Over and above those categories, there is a whole world of 4H for kids.


Dates to know:

Now! The 2020 Fair Premium Book is on-line.  The 2021 premium book will be published in April next year.

Registration Deadline: This year’s would have been July 20. You have to have your registration form completed and at the Fair office by this day.  The form is on page 73 -75 of the Fair Premium Book. You also have to have your entries paid for by this date.  Yes, you do have to pay to enter things in the fair, but don’t worry it’s cheap.  The fee is $5 for every ten items you enter. However, you win a $3 premium for every class in which you take first place, so you could easily win your money back!  Do everyone a favor and get your registration form in early.  The real reward is satisfaction and maybe a little bit of bragging rights.  You mail the form in to the Fair office or you drive it over there.   The address is right on the form.  The Fair Board is working on an online system, but for now it’s still mail-in or drop-off.

Dates of the Fair:  August 8-14, 2021. There will be certain days and times to bring in exhibits and certain days and times to remove them.  Read the rules on page 45 (Tanner Building) of this year’s premium book to get an idea, and page 33 (Heim Building). Don’t worry if the exhibits looked a little wilted by the time you saw them last summer, they are judged at their peak.


How to win:

Entries are divided into animal exhibits and non-animal exhibits, then further divided into departments and classes. Read the rules for the department in which you are entering, on pages 33 and 45 of the Premium Book, as above.  Then read the description of the class(es) you are entering. 

There are rules for how to display your entries.  For example, vegetables are to be on a plain paper plate and preserved foods are to be in a clear glass jar.  Make sure you enter your item in the right class.  A common mistake in the horticulture section is to misidentify an herb! 

I don’t think growing a wonderful specimen is going to be a problem for you Master Gardeners.  Note that many entries ask for a certain number of veggies like three carrots or five radishes.  Judges are looking for produce that is representative of the variety, not necessarily the biggest or anything unusual.  Health of the product is very important.  Judges may use the descriptions in nursery catalogs to figure out what the representative characteristics are of the variety.  Remember if it’s a bad year for tomatoes, it’s a bad year for everybody.  Enter anyway; your small specimens may still be the best.  Or maybe you have figured out a better way to grow that fruit and would like to show it off.


Volunteer Opportunities:

This may be the best part of the fair.  You get to participate.  Take a shift in the Tanner Building keeping the displays tidy and answering questions about the Master Gardener program.  There will be program literature for you to distribute.  The Tanner building is cool and shady, people will stop and chat, you get to meet other Master Gardener Volunteers and network with them about your projects.  The building is also conveniently located near the restrooms and the food court.  Last year my favorite, Norma’s Tamales, was just outside the door.  Contact Nate Walton or Duke Elsner to sign up next year.

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