DOSWELL—The State Fair of Virginia is known for showcasing mind-bogglingly large pumpkins, mouthwatering baked goods and imaginative creations from across the Commonwealth.
But how do they all make their way to the fair?
“Very carefully,” noted Cheryl English, State Fair superintendent of creative and culinary arts. “There are some things that are a little tricky to get here.”
It’s a fair competitor’s worst nightmare to spend hours baking or crafting only for their entry to get damaged during transport. Many put their delicate creations in special boxes or carriers and secure them on a vehicle’s flat floorboards or trunk with added cushioning.
“The cakes do go a little wonky at times, especially if they’re stacked,” English said. “A sudden stop in a car with a three-tiered cake—that’s not good.”
English noted that Lego sculptures are the most fragile—often requiring two people to carry them. Lego sculptures must be mounted on a firm surface to make them easier to carry, and some crafters even make special carts to move larger creations.
If something does happen, competitors “can do any finishing touches here. That’s only fair because some things just won’t take a ride. Most of the kids come with their stuff so they can quickly put something back together if it falls off,” she explained.
It’s OK as long as the repairs are finished before the official competition judging time.
For the Giant Veggie Weigh-Off, getting massive pumpkins, gourds and watermelons from field to fair is no small feat.
Ricky Atkins of Southampton County is a multi-year winner of the fair’s giant pumpkin competition. He said taking his family’s pumpkins to the Saturday-morning weigh-off requires careful preparation, coordination and teamwork.
“There’s a whole lot to the process,” Atkins said. “You can’t just last-minute load them.”
The day before the weigh-off, the Atkins family and a group of friends load the 600-pound-plus pumpkins onto pallets. Using a tractor equipped with a special sling and lifting ring, they wrap each pumpkin “like a spider web” and gently lift it to slide a sturdy pallet underneath. They then painstakingly lift the pumpkins and pallets onto trucks or trailers and secure them with straps.
“You gotta stay on top of them, because they’ll get messed up easily,” Atkins said.
Styrofoam boards pad the pumpkins’ sides, and pool noodles are wrapped around the straps to prevent them from cutting into the prized pumpkin flesh.
And then there’s the drive, where slow and steady is the motto—hoping for no flat tires or breakdowns.
“You’re not driving down the road listening to music and having a good time,” Atkins said. “You’ve got two people in each vehicle—one is carefully driving, and the other is watching the pumpkin.”
If the worst does happen and a pumpkin cracks during transport, the crack can’t be deep enough to reach the interior cavity. Otherwise, “you’re done,” Atkins said.
Once at the fair, growers and fair employees use forklifts and muscle to carefully unload the giant produce for weighing. Winners are prominently displayed in the fair’s Horticulture Pavilion.
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