Ribbons fill the tables of the halls at the Johnson County 4-H Fairgrounds as 4-H’ers anxiously wait for Sunday to see if their project won.

The placing is chosen by one of 85 judges, who spent the week before the fair judging more than 2,500 4-H projects. The projects include photography, garden crops and the newest category: cupcake decorating.

With pride on their faces, dozens of 4-H’ers line up the week before the fair to turn in projects they have been working on for months. In Scott Hall, the smell of baked goods fills the air. Nearby, children turn in colorful fruits, vegetables and floral arrangements, and the judges wait to talk to them about their process of growing or creating their project.

For more than 30 years, Susan Bigler has spent her summer judging food projects at county fairs throughout central Indiana. The smiles of 4-H’ers are why Bigler looks forward to waking up early and enduring long, hot hours judging dozens of projects.

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“I love seeing the kids’ smiling faces when they come in with a project they’re proud of,” Bigler said. “Their smile makes me smile.”

Shelby Gill, a Franklin Community Middle School student, has been part of 4-H for four years. This year she set out to make pretzels as her project. However, after many trials and tribulations, pretzels weren’t going to cut it.

Instead, she decided to make yeast-free whole wheat biscuits.

“This definitely taught me problem-solving because I was in a bad spot for this because my pretzels weren’t going how I thought they would,” Shelby said.

“But I do like the learning process and how it’s quite educational.”

Even when some projects don’t turn out how a child expects them to, Bigler loves chatting with them in an attempt to help them learn and grow.

“You have to continuously encourage them and tell them they’re a good person and focus on not breaking them down,” Bigler said.

“It isn’t personal and you want to help them grow.”

Kayla Bechman, a Johnson County native who judges cake decorating, said she loves talking with the kids about their projects.

“I like meeting all the kids, and I especially love when they tell me what they did and what they had learned,” Bechman said.

“I think that really shows a lot of dedication and how creative kids can be — especially at a young age.”

Each category is judged differently based on the criteria. For instance, cupcake decorating is judged based on design and creativity, while baking is based on taste.

When a 4-H’er turns in their project, they sit down with the judge and explain their process — from why they chose to make a certain project to the steps they took to do so. Judges then explain to the 4-H’ers what they did well and what they could do better — which helps them prepare for the years to come.

For more than 60 years, Judy Rust had grown and had designed flowers. She is now a nationally-accredited flower judge, who spends much of her summer judging floral arrangements at fairs around the state.

“I love to share my knowledge and educate the kids,” Rust said.

“Seeing the creativity and seeing what they come up with is exciting, encouraging and amazing.”

At a glance

Sunday, July 16

8 a.m. — Fair officially begins

7 a.m.-noon — 4-H livestock due on the fairgrounds

8:30 a.m. — Registration for Dog Show

9 a.m. — 4-H Dog Show (east side of Fitzpatrick Hall)

9 a.m. — 4-H Horse & Pony – Western Division Halter & Performance (Horse Arena)

12 p.m. — Free registration for Pet Parade (children up to 10)

12:30 p.m. — Swine exhibitors meeting

1 p.m. — Swine quiz

1 p.m. — 4-H & Open Class exhibits open to the public

1 p.m. — Pet Parade (Indoor Arena)

1 p.m. — 4-H Goat exhibitors meeting, weigh-in to follow

1-3 p.m. — Registration for second annual Car & Truck Show (Grandstands); $10 vehicle entry fee

1:30 p.m. — Swine check-in

3 p.m. — 4-H Sheep exhibitors meeting (Sheep Barn)

3-4:30 p.m. — 2017 Little Miss and Mr. Johnson County Contest (Indoor Arena)

3-5 p.m. — Robotics Club demonstration (Magill Hall; sponsored by Duke Energy

4-7 p.m. — Hot air balloon photo fun (northwest corner of Fairgrounds)

5 p.m. — Midway opens

5 p.m. — Awards for second annual Car & Truck Show (Grandstands)

5-6:30 p.m. — Free Stage: Amber Fentz Beringer Country Nights, Carnival Lights Art (will be auctioned off Friday night)

5-8 p.m. — Cooking demonstrations (Farm Bureau Building)

6 p.m. — Vesper service in “A” Tent, followed by gospel music (north of Scott Hall)

7 p.m. — Horseshoe pitching (West side of Fair Office)

7 p.m. — 2017 Miss Johnson County Fair Queen Contest (Indoor Arena); sponsored by Johnson County REMC

7 p.m. — Cash drawing at the day sponsor booth (Herring Hall entrance); must be present to win

7-10 p.m. — Tethered hot air balloon rides; $10/kids, $12/adults

8:45-9:45 p.m. — Hot air balloon glowing (northwest corner of Fairgrounds)