Winning at a county fair brings great notoriety. Remember how excited Farmer Zuckerman was in the book "Charlottes Web" when Wilbur won! The county fair is meant to bring together exhibitors in many categories across the county to see who is the best.

Horticulture exhibits at the fair cover everything from flowers to vegetables. Exhibitors have the opportunity to win ribbons and sometimes even prize money. They also learn how to be a better gardener, well-informed consumer, and the importance of good sportsmanship.

You might wonder what makes a champion vegetable. Vegetables are evaluated on the basis of cleanliness, uniformity, condition, quality, and trueness to variety. It is also important to follow all fair rules paying particular attention to the time for submitting, the number of entries allowed, and quantities of vegetables needed. I think it is a difficult job to judge vegetable at a fair.

University of Illinois Extension has a website that covers how to prepare and show vegetables at a fair at It provides specific information about each type of vegetable. For example, cucumbers should be straight, dark green, with blunt ends and stems trimmed to 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Slicing cucumbers should be 6 to 9 inches long and not over 2-1/2 inches in diameter, whereas pickling cucumbers should be not more than 3-1/2 inches long and 1-1/4 inches in diameter.

I find flowers even harder to judge than vegetables, especially floral arrangements. The flower judging class I took at college taught us to gauge cut flowers according to condition, form, stem and foliage, color, and size. Flowering potted plants are scaled according to cultural perfection, floriferousness, the size of the plant, the color of bloom, and size of the bloom.

Floral arrangements are harder to judge because personal opinion seems to play a large part. Still, most of the judging is based on how well the design elements (shape, space, size, pattern, texture, and color) are applied to the design principles (proportion, balance, rhythm, and dominance).

Consider exhibiting at a fair near you this summer. Adult and Junior categories are usually available. You might wonder the difference between a 4-H fair and the county fair. At 4-H fairs, the youth projects are judged individually in a learning environment, not against each other. General fairs, on the other hand, are all about competition amongst other gardeners.

To learn more about the 4-H or general fair near you, go to your local University of Illinois Extension website at Illinois county fairs are listed at

Here are the fairs in the four-county area I serve. I invite you to visit our informational booths to ask gardening questions and learn more about our  programs.

  • Heart of Illinois Fair, July 17-21
  • Fulton County 4-H General Show, July 7
  • Mason County 4-H Show and Jr. Fair, July 23-26
  • Fulton County Fair/4-H Livestock Shows, July 23-28
  • Peoria 4-H Show, August 1-3
  • Tazewell 4-H Show and Jr. Fair, July 30-August 1
  • Illinois State Fair, August 9-19

    If you miss the fair this year, be sure to attend next year or even consider entering an exhibit. The fair is always fun and a great learning experience.