If you've been a 4-H'er or have been involved in FFA, you know the weeks leading up to the Delta County Fair are always a little hectic. Between fashion revues and shooting sports competitions, animal weigh-ins and other events, kids in Delta County are in a flurry of activity, fine tuning and tweaking their exhibits in the hopes of bringing home the big prize.
For one Crawford family, entering exhibits at the Delta County Fair is a five-generation tradition. It all started many years ago with Agnes Kraai, the grandmother of Charlotte Lubin. 4-H wasn't around when Agnes was growing up, but as an adult she was a regular contributor of exhibits at the fair. She was well known for her pies, especially her cherry pies. Charlotte remembers that the grandkids always got to eat the pie after Grandma Kraai brought it home from the fair -- usually with a ribbon attached. The year she won the big prize for her cherry pie was the same year the grandkids came across a handful of pits in that pie. "She must have been really lucky that year," Charlotte said. "When we ate that pie, we found 10-12 cherry pits. It was lucky the judge didn't get a pit!" Pies were Agnes Kraai's specialty; the women in her family still use her pie crust recipe, the one that brought home so many blue ribbons over the years.
Agnes's daughter, Jean Clark, was in 4-H, and also continued showcasing exhibits at the fair as an adult. She took a lot of cooking and baking projects through the 4-H program. Homemade cookies was something Jean excelled in, both as a child and as an adult. One of her most-loved cookie recipes was her gingerbread cookies, a favorite of her husband's. But, she only made them at fair time, and Charlotte laughs when she tells that her dad only got his favorite cookie that one time a year.
One year as a child Jean entered a batch of cookies at the county fair, and earned grand champion. She made a second batch of those award-winning cookies for the state fair, where she also took grand champion. Charlotte still has scrapbooks her mother made through her 4-H home economics projects.
Charlotte herself continued the family tradition of showcasing her talents at the fair. She also was a 4-H member for many years. Through the program, she took mostly baking and cooking classes, trying her hand, and mastering, quick breads, yeast breads and tempting sweets. Charlotte also took sewing through 4-H and cranked out a couple of pieces each year. She remembers her junior year of high school sitting at a machine, feeding lavender satin through the machine as she crafted a formal gown for her junior prom. The gown featured a detachable lace overlay on the full skirt -- quite fashionable for the times, she said. The dress won grand champion at both the Delta County Fair and the Colorado State Fair. The frock still hangs in her closet to this day.
When her own children were old enough to begin doing activities, 4-H and the fair were a natural fit, Charlotte said. She was able to help teach her kids some of the same skills she herself learned in the 4-H program.
Jeannette took baking, cooking, sewing, quilting, cake decorating and sheep, and one year she tried her hand at raising a pig. "But we don't talk about that," Jeannette joked. She was a fierce competitor in sewing, bringing home dozens of grand champion and reserve grand champion ribbons over the years for both her clothing construction and her modeling through the fashion revue. She, too, still has some of the clothing she made. She said she misses Creative Cooks, a competition where 4-H'ers decorated a table, showcasing proper table setting, created a menu, and prepared one of the foods from that menu.
Now it's time for a new generation with Jeanette's children. Tia, who is 8, has been entering exhibits since she was just 5. Her twin brothers, six-year-olds Tanner and Blake, have entered for just a few years. The kids are too young yet for 4-H, but that doesn't stop them from fully participating in the fair. The three were hard at work last week, with help from Nana and Mom, finishing up the details on the many projects they each intend to exhibit.
Tia likes to make cookies, arrange flowers from Nana's yard, make art projects and sew -- all things which she plans to enter in the fair this year. When she was five, she asked Santa Claus for a sewing machine. "When I saw my Nana sewing sometimes, I always wanted to do it," she said. When Santa delivered the shiny new sewing machine that Christmas, Tia immediately wanted to try her hand at sewing. But she found out her feet didn't reach the machine's pedal, so mom had to rig up a solution so Tia could reach. One of the first things she sewed was a purple skirt for herself, which she entered in the fair the following summer. She won a blue ribbon that first year.
The following year, she tried her hand at making a quilt. "It mostly took me forever, because I was just learning how to sew," she explained seriously. She is currently making another quilt, and this one, after it comes back from the fair, will be shipped off to her Aunt Fanzi in Germany, who is expecting her first baby and a new cousin for Tia, Tanner and Blake. This quilt features soft blues and greens, and has pictures of baby jungle animals on the fabric. Tia was hard at work last week, putting the finishing touches on the quilt -- thankfully her feet can now reach the pedal! This year she also plans to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, her favorite. "They're very tasty, and they're yummy," she said. She fully expects to win a ribbon this year for her nearly-world-famous cookies. "I've got lots of ribbons," Tia said. "I have so many ribbons I don't even know where they all are!"
Blake and Tanner each plan to enter an art project. Tanner plans to enter a kiln-fired clay sculpture he made of the Statue of Liberty. Last year, he won the Most Beautiful Arrangement in the junior division for his floral arrangement of mums. This year, Blake plans to enter a floral arrangement (they take turns entering this division every year, since there aren't a lot of kids who enter that category). He also plans to make chocolate chip cookies -- his favorite.
Sometimes the siblings work together on their projects, like when they make their Fun With Food projects, which showcase a silly take on food. One year they made a "fruit cocktail," a glass jar filled with characterized watermelons, bananas, apples and other fruits, with funny, sewn-on faces. Last year, they made an edible centerpiece together as well, carving an owl out of a pineapple.
While Charlotte will occasionally find time to exhibit -- at this point, she's mainly focusing on digital photography --mostly she and Jeannette spend their time helping the kids prepare for fair.
"Usually about the time we help the kids get their stuff done, there just isn't any time left," Jeannette said.
Both Charlotte and Jeannette lament the fairs of when they were kids. Jeannette remembers participating in the 4-H fashion revues which were all-day affairs with dozens and dozens of competitors. Now, though her kids very much enjoy the fair, Jeannette, and many others, are sad to see the declining number of both Heritage Hall entries and show animals. Charlotte used to serve as a superintendent for 4-H entries, and remembers having to cram ceramics projects into the display cases. Making room for cakes, sewing and Decorate Your Duds projects required a lot of juggling. "It's sad," she said about the decline over the past few years.
Jeannette agrees. And while she can't do anything about the number of entries, what she can do is make sure her own children learn those heritage skills. "I think it's becoming a lost art -- cooking and sewing and even taking care of animals, it's all being lost," Jeannette said. "It's something they really need to learn." Plus, the fair is fun, she said. "It's fun to be a part of your community, for that one week where everyone comes together," she said.
Regardless of whether or not they win a bunch of ribbons this year, the Homedew kids are looking forward to fair week. "There are lots of games, lots of action and lots of animals," Tia said. "But the rodeo is the best part."
"There is music going and they're riding bulls, too!" Blake said. "Fair is the funnest thing ever."
Now, how can you disagree with that?