Kandiyohi County's finest hand made quilts, its tastiest apple pies and its best-looking poultry all gathered near the shores of Foot Lake at the county fairgrounds in Willmar on Tuesday. Over the next four days, they'll be prodded, measured, tasted, and otherwise compared by dozens of volunteer judges.
Some of their owners will bring home blue ribbons. Others won't be so lucky. Whatever the outcome, it's serious business for area 4-H members, according to Trish Sheehan, Kandiyohi County 4-H Extension Educator.
Unlike entries from the general public -- which are judged in private -- submissions from 4-H members are judged during face to face interviews, where members are asked what they learned from the experience of creating their project.
That goes a long way in determining what level of ribbon to award the submission, said Sheehan.
"50 percent of the judging is on the project itself and the other 50 is based on the interview with the judge," she said.
Dozens of interviews were being held at the 4-H building on the fairgrounds on Tuesday, with members bringing in entries spanning over 70 categories.
"For them, it's kind of like the big game, like the championship," Sheehan said.
Allison Goldenstein, 15, brought Sapphire, a Siamese cat, and veteran of 5 county fairs. It was judged for its grooming, character, and overall healthfulness.
Sam Anez, 13, brought some homemade insecticides and a poster documenting his project to find a cheap alternative to bug sprays that he and his father, Jared, use to keep flies away from their two horses. "They weren't very effective," he said of the concoctions.
Even children not old enough to be 4-H members, known as "cloverbuds," submitted work to be judged, although they all received the same rainbow-colored ribbon.
Cloverbud judge Jodi Schons said she was impressed with the work produced by the young children. She noted one sand art picture produced by a 1st grader in particular. "It was incredibly detailed," she said.
The children expend a great deal of time and energy on their projects, she said.
"It's a huge deal for them," she said. "It's fun to see their excitement."
Beyond the 4-H judging, non-livestock entries were being accepted on Tuesday from the general public as well. In the afternoon, people were lined up outside the fairground's administration building, carrying everything from hand made quilts, to lego projects, to baked goods.
Three-year-old Reier Dimler needed help carrying the gigantic corn stalk he found at his grandpa's farm south of Willmar. His mother, Darcy, wasn't sure on the length, but she'll find out later as it is measured and compared against corn stalks from throughout the area.
Out of the hundreds of categories of items to be judged and ranked, most usually have at least one submission, said longtime fair volunteer Karen Erickson.
"Some years, one thing will be up, and another will be down, but we usually fill the majority," she said.
Helping fill those categories this year were Steve Gardener's children: Lizzie, 10, and Riley, 11. Between the two, they submitted a bevy of small handmade quilts, original photography, and homemade baked goods.
"It's kind of an event for them every summer," said Gardener.