HANCOCK COUNTY – Nolan McConah slid the flower pot across the table to the judge.
A slight smile on his face, Noah knew he’d done his best to tend the inhabitant of the terracotta pot, a red-and-gold zinnia blooming proudly above the soil.
Noah, 8, and more than 1,000 other Hancock County 4-H’ers ages 8 to 18 have worked throughout the year to put their talents on display for this year’s fair. They cultivate flowers and vegetables, created art projects, baked up tasty treats, trained all manner of livestock. They put their heads, hearts, hands and health into more than 4,000 projects this year.
Livestock will be judged throughout fair week, which runs through Friday, and hundreds of non-livestock projects will be on display at the Hancock County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall.
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No matter the project, each 4-H’er is after the coveted purple champion and grand champion ribbons designating the top performers.
Those 4-H’ers will move on to the Indiana State Fair in August to be judged against the best in the state, officials said.
On Thursday night, Sarah Ebert, 9, a member of Blue River Guys and Gals, turned in samples of broccoli and radishes she’d grown in her home garden.
For broccoli, she had to turn in only one stalk — and was eyeballing another competitor’s bigger one as she waited to go before the judge.
The 4-H’ers learn where they did well and what they should work on to improve next year, but sitting down with the judges teaches them about more than just competition, said Laura Tracy, superintendent of the garden and vegetable judging.
The kids become more confident over the years and learn how to present themselves well and interact with adults, she said.
Some projects take weeks or months to perfect — but nearly every effort requires a little last-minute prepping.
Gracie Wyatt, 16, dropped off two boutonnieres on Friday that she’d put together that day. The main flowers of the arrangements came from a grocery store floral case, but Wyatt, a member of the Lucky Clovers 4-H Club, borrowed succulents from her great-grandma’s flower pots and striped grass from a friend’s house to add a personal touch, she said.
“I like doing my own thing and putting together what I want,” said Wyatt, who had been working on her designs for the boutonnieres for about two weeks.
Every year, the thousands of projects that pour in create a bit of an organizational hazard. Everyone deserves to have their hard work be seen, but visibility is sometimes in short supply in the small exhibit hall.
All this week, volunteers gently stacked art projects and Lego creations on risers and hung posters in a maze-like arrangement in order to get everyone’s projects on display, said program assistant Shelly Vail.
There’s no room to display food items this year, so photographs of the edible projects are displayed on a portable riser along the east wall of the Exhibit Building, she said.
More than 200 sets of helping hands keep the drop-off process running smoothly and keep a watchful eye over the hall during the fair, Vail said.
And as they search the risers for their creations, 4-H’ers also have an eye on the competition.
Before he left the exhibit hall, Noah sought his own projects and also garnered a few ideas for next year’s fair.
“It makes me happy to see all the other great creations,” he said.