Soon county fairs will be in full force. They are a great place to visit during stay-cations. I truly enjoy visiting county fairs and find it difficult to understand when people share with me that they have never been to the county fair where they live. For some of us who grew up in 4-H, fairs are a way of summer.

I love county fairs, visiting with people that I only see once a year, and viewing the dedicated work of 4-H’ers and open class exhibitors. I also enjoy watching the livestock shows and of course the food! I know that for many fairgoers that food is the highlight! Many of the county fairs in Indiana and Michigan have open-class competitions that include a variety of food contests, baking, special food contests, cake decorating and outdoor cooking. At the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, we have several contests in the Home and Family Arts Department, which I encourage you and others to enter.

You can start by entering in the Food Preservation Department, which includes canning, drying, flavored vinegars and honey. These items along with items entered in clothing construction, antique/vintage, handicrafts, needlework, quilts, children’s corner, photography, and creative arts are due between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. July 15. Bring your entries to the Home and Family Arts Building located on the fairgrounds. Entries cost $1 each or you can enter a minimum of five entries (up to 20) and pay $30 to receive five daily fair passes. If you enter more than 20 items, the fee of $1 per entry applies.

Baking and Cake Decorating department entries can be checked in from 7:30 to 11 a.m. July 18. These items include bread machines, cakes, candy, cookies, pies, crackers, heart healthy items, muffins, quick breads, yeast breads, and cake decorating. Also on July 18, 4-H Fair President Josh Culp will be holding his “Chocolate Raspberry Cream Pie” contest. Bring your pie from 11 to 11:45 a.m. to enter. This contest does not have an entry fee.

There are several other special food contests you can enter. These contests do not require pre-entry; the entry fee is your admission paid at the gate. A Crockpot Contest will be held Saturday, July 20. Bring in your favorite main dish and/or vegetable dish cooked entirely in a crockpot. Check-in is from 11 to 11:45 a.m. with judging to begin at noon. Saturday will also feature a “Year of the Pumpkin” contest. Bring in your favorite dish with pumpkin as the main ingredient. Check-in is at 4:30 p.m. Open judging begins at 5 p.m.

Enter our “Dairy Delicious” contest Monday, July 22, with your favorite entry for party foods and main dishes. Your entry must contain at least two dairy foods such as milk, cream, cream cheese, cheese or ice cream. Each entry should have at least six servings. Check-in from 11 to 11:45 a.m. and judging will begin around noon.

You do not need any baking skills to enter the Longest Apple Peel contest Tuesday, July 23. We provide the apples and the knife, but for safety reasons, this contest is for adults only. If the peel breaks you can begin again from the same apple. A bonus to this is you have a delicious apple to eat after the contest. This should help balance some of the greasy foods you eat at the fair. Check-in at 11 a.m.; contest begins at 11:15 a.m. The participant with the longest, continuous peel will claim first place.

Tuesday, July 23, will host the 36th Annual Senior Citizen’s Cookie Contest. Check-in will begin at 9 a.m. and conclude at 11 a.m. with judging at 11:30 a.m. Participants must be 62 or older and can enter one item in each of the three categories: bar, drop and formed cookies. No brownies are allowed. Each entry should have six cookies on a plate and you must pick up your item by 1 p.m.

Enter the Green Bean contest where you can be as creative as you like! The main ingredient must be locally grown green beans. Bring your dish to the Home and Family Arts Building from 11 to 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, July 24. Open judging begins around noon.

There will be a Fresh Salsa Contest on Thursday, July 25. Mix up your winning fruit and/or vegetable salsa recipes and let the judges choose their favorites. Check-in is at 4:30 p.m. with judging to begin at 5 p.m. The “Bursting with Blueberries” contest is on Friday, July 26. Check-in is from 11 to 11:45 a.m. with open judging at noon. Anything goes, but the more blueberries the better.

If you like to grill, don’t miss the outdoor cooking contests on Saturday, July 27. The “Best of Michiana Ribs” and “Byler Lienhart Cook-Off” will begin with check-in at 9 a.m. Byler Lienhart cook-off judging will begin at 11:30 while ribs judging will begin around noon. Be sure to read all contest rules and regulations. Saturday, July 27, also hosts “The Great Homemade Ice Cream Crank-Off,” which is held in front of the Home & Family Arts building. Check-in is from 10 to 11:00 a.m.; the crank-off begins at 11:15 a.m. and must be done by noon for judging. Enter as an individual or a team of no more than three. Specific contest rules and regulations apply.

For a complete copy of rules and regulations, visit

It is fun to participate and sometimes you are fortunate enough to be a prize winner! Many of these contests have ribbon and special prize awards as well as monetary awards. What is most important is that you participated in a county fair, had some fun, ate great food, and made some memories. I cannot encourage you enough to make the most of the county fair where you live. If nothing else, go there and enjoy the food!

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross is Extension Educator, Health and Human Sciences, Purdue Extension Elkhart County. She can be reached at 574-533-0554 or

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