Photo: Steve Thurston
While people threw ping-pong balls at small fish bowls and shot fake guns at tiny targets on the fairgrounds outside, inside the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, a contest of a different sort was just beginning last night, the first night of the Arlington County Fair.
In the huge gym--empty save for some tables, and a floor covered in thick black plastic--kids and their parents, adults and individuals entered their creations to be judged at the fair today. They brought flowers, herbs, needlepoint, creative writing, photos, cakes, cookies, ceramics and more.
The competitive exhibits is an end-of-summer rite as old as county fairs countrywide.
At more rural fairs the competition takes on a decidedly more mammalian form, with prizes for best pig, cow or chicken. But here in urban Arlington, the only prizes for the living include those for flora: flowers, plants and herbs.
The whole idea of the contest is to let people see what Arlington "makes and bakes and creates," said Linda Simmons, one of the fair's board members and a volunteer who helped people enter their creations in the proper competitive divisions last night. Despite Arlington's decidedly urban environment, a lot of people grow in small gardens countywide, she said.
"People still do food preservation [canning]," she said, indicating the jars of jelly along one wall. "They bake."
She, like others interviewed, spoke of the need to let Arlington's youth see what can be done.
Nine-year-old Alana McBride, has won ribbons in past years and was back again this year with photos, drawings and ceramics. Her mother Jennifer McBride said she would be bringing a zucchini bread this morning to see if it is as good as her family thinks.
Starting this morning and running through early afternoon, their creations will be judged in areas such as flavor or decorative style for baked goods, and artistic ability for entries such as photos and creative writing. Volunteer professionals judge the prizes. They come from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Northern Virginia Community College's Alexandria campus and elsewhere officials said.
For Charlie Pulley the competition is old hat. A "Reserve Grand Champion" two years running, Charlie, 9, entered three breads this year, pumpkin, zucchini, and chocolate chip banana (this writer's favorite).
"Reserve Grand Champion" winners fall just short of the "Grand Champion" level and are top prizes within age groups, according to fair documents.
He said he does not have secret ingredients, but has been baking since he was 4. Yet he doesn't bake cookies for the competition.