Late Tuesday afternoon, the McKee Building at the Ranch was bustling, as dozens of 4-H members filled the spacious room to hand in their entries for this year’s fair, patiently waiting for judges to call them for interviews and s sit for those -an interview with the judges who would later present ribbons to the winners.
The Blum family was not hard to find. Workers at a reception table knew who the reporter was talking about when he inquired.
“They’re in the archery hall, down this hallway,” said a young woman, who then described Blum group leader Mama Judi so she could be more easily identified.
The participants did not shoot arrows. Rather, they were in another room being questioned by judges about archery. When the reporter asked an attendant if anyone with Blum’s last name was in the room, Judi Blum — who had just walked through the door with four children in tow — spoke up. “It’s me.”
Archery is one of the many activities the Blums take part in at the fair. Her 13-year-old daughter Selah was interviewing, and after filing their 4-H projects and completing other interviews, Judi Blum and the other four siblings came to check on her progress.
Once the family finished at the McKee Building, Judi Blum and her five children carried their open class entries across the plaza to the exhibit hall of the First National Bank, where they stopped to pose for a photo with their entries before submitting them for judging.
And that was just the beginning for the family. Later in the week, the children would return to the fairgrounds to show off their animals.
Today, we learn more about the Blums and, in doing so, the extended 4-H family.
What got you started in fair competitions? And what motivates you to keep competing?
I come from a family history of 4-H and county fairs. Both of my parents and their parents were 4-H leaders, and all of my cousins, on both sides, attended county fairs at some point in their lives. So my kids are fourth-generation county fair goers. The kids said, “We love it, getting feedback from the judges on our hard work, showing off our animals, playing with friends and ice cream from the Dairy Bar.
Your family has participated in many events – cake decorating, sewing, crocheting, woodworking, archery, sheep, cattle, pigs, chickens, etc. How do you find the time? Is summer just one long fair preparation?
Some projects start early in the year (like archery practices and cake decorating, and sheep and chickens are raised year-round on our farm), but others we wait for a little too long to start, then let’s end up burning the midnight oil to finish them before the county fair! We never plan holidays or activities between mid-July and the first week of August, because that’s the right time!
I understand you are blue ribbon winners in baked goods. I’m thinking of taste-based baked goods and coming out of the oven. How are baked goods judged at a fair? Can you share a tip to excel in this area?
Baked goods should be prepared the day you hand them in, but cooled so much that they won’t get soggy in a sealed container. You have to be sure to adapt to the high altitude. Judges are looking for consistency (no air bubbles or ingredients not mixed all the way through), uniformity, even coloring, proper size (uniform cookies and not too big or small, loaves of bread or cakes that rise to the height they should be), and pleasantly tasty unique recipes. My kids also love the kids’ cooking division, as they can cook their own and enter them for the fair, using their own unique recipes that they often enjoy making at home, competing against others their age. (I like the natural sugar free and gluten free category, as well as the “sweetened only with honey” category, because we can use our own recipes that we use at home!)
A spectator may look at the entries for a fair contest and think that he will never be able to participate in a fair contest. What advice do you have for someone who wants to try?
First, they have to come to the fair and look at all the divisions and entries, get ideas, and see how the items get ribbons. There are Novice, Amateur, and Professional divisions in many fields (like photography, etc.). Second, make sure you enter the open class for free by mid-July (deadline changes every year), or you can enter on contest day for a $5 entry fee. Third, be sure to follow the instructions listed for each category (whether you need to include the recipe or ingredients used, or the pattern or instructions, etc., and details of what you did to make it). Finally, come back to see all the items on display and realize that it’s fun and exciting to participate in the county fair! If you have kids between the ages of 8 and 18, consider joining a 4-H club where you and your family can get involved in a program that teaches more than just competing at the county fair.
How has competing at the fair changed your life at home – everything from what’s on the menu to what you wear to decorating your home?
Just before and during fair weeks, my house is a mess, and heaps of dishes and laundry are my decorations! Ha ha. My husband and kids enjoy trying out the baking practice items. Really, it hasn’t changed my life at home physically so much, because it’s a way of life of who we are, but it has changed my family’s confidence in their talents and abilities, and learning about skills and trades they might never have learned without 4-H and county fairs. Winning a top spot is always fun and rewarding, but the real “win” is the kids who have learned responsibility, quality time with their parents or other county leaders teaching them a new skill, how to interview and tell to a judge what they did, the time management, the hard work ethic and the honesty of doing the job themselves. And the confidence/pride in completing something they worked hours and hours on that needed to be completed in order to enter the contest. These are memories for a lifetime.
OK, one more question: what is your favorite salon memory?
The Blum kids used to say “sleeping in an RV with my cousins and grandparents, seeing my friends from other clubs, and the water-in-the-mud fights in the outdoor arena, and getting hosed down in the washing cabins in the barns”. I would say “the family reunion with other 4-H families that I only see once a year at the fair, but we’ve enjoyed getting to know each other over the years. And I’ve met some amazing people making our Open Class show appearances, queuing together. It’s about building or strengthening relationships when you spend time together at the fair. When I was a kid, I loved the day we went to see how my projects worked and I applauded when I won my categories. Winning at the state fair level was the most expensive prize of all.
Age: Judi Blum (mom), Moriah (15), Selah (13), Micah (11), Isaiah (8), Elijah (5).
Years in the region: Judi has lived here since 1995; her husband moved here in 2005 when they got married.
Occupation: Judi is a homeschooler/4-H chef/domestic engineer and full-time mother/wife who has a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s degree in agriculture (in agricultural extension).