The 10-year-old Franklin girl wasn’t nervous when she sat down with her cake in front of a judge Thursday.
Louisa Shook smiled instead, because she knows the drill now. She decorated a cake to be judged for the Johnson County 4-H fair last year.
So this year, she wasn’t concerned about answering questions about how she decorated the cake or whether her project was hard. And she didn’t worry about the people watching her, either.
Judges looked over hundreds of projects this week, from first-time 4-H’ers to 10-year veterans. The children lined up quietly with their projects, which included all manner of efforts, such as model rockets, farm toys arranged as a display, photography, rabbits, chickens, posters, notebooks, sewing and baking. The projects that won blue ribbons were later considered for other awards, such as class champion and grand champion.
Louisa’s cake, white with red icing flowers across the top, came away with a blue ribbon.
“I like to see how other people feel about my cake,” she said. “I like being creative.”
In the days before this year’s county fair began, judges gave awards for more than 50 categories, and gave out first-, second- and third-place ribbons.
Shelby Riddle said she still gets nervous before getting judged. This year, she said, her primary worry was that her cake, which she spent about five hours decorating, would get dropped or bumped and fall apart.
It didn’t. And she got a blue ribbon, which qualifies her project to compete for overall grand champion.
“It’s a lot of fun, but it can be nerve-wracking just anticipating what you’re going to get and what you need to improve on,” she said.
The judges look over the children’s work, ask questions about how and why they did a project, and then suggest ways they could do even better next year — even if they give a youngster a blue ribbon.
Jake Lengacher was grateful for the feedback he got from a judge this week on the balsa wood rocket he built. The judge’s suggestion to use glue to fill in cracks and smooth out the wood, instead of sanding and resanding, will save him time in the future, he said. He spent more than 40 hours building, sanding and painting the rocket, he said.
The 15-year-old from Greenwood has made mistakes in front of judges. Once, he made a wooden cutting board, got nervous and couldn’t remember what type of wood he used when the judge asked about it. But he’s gained confidence, and he appreciates learning from the judges.
Happy reactions, such as Louisa’s smile, make being a judge fun, cake decorating judge Pat Anderson said.
The Hancock County resident has gotten hugs from excited 4-H winners, and a child Thursday morning blurted out, “You are the sweetest woman I have ever met.”
But the tears from children who don’t win a blue ribbon are a hard part of the job, she said.
But even if a child clearly spent hours on a project, she still has to go by the county judging rules, which require, for example, that cake boards be a certain size. If the children didn’t follow all the rules or their projects aren’t made at the skill level expected for their age, then she has to give a red ribbon, which means the project was just average. But she said she doesn’t have to give red ribbons often.
Anderson, a caterer who has been decorating cakes for more than 60 years, judges at fairs in multiple counties. She said she likes to see the children come back year after year and improve.
Making sure the children enjoy 4-H, even if their projects don’t win top honors, is important to Michael Weaver, who judged microwaved food and food preparation projects at the fairgrounds this week. The microwaved projects included fudge and brownies, and for food preparation one 4-H’er displayed cucumber sandwiches. Part of the judging included tasting the foods.
Weaver said he tries to keep judging light by making the children laugh.
“I remember some of the judges were really harsh when I was in it 40 years ago. I was terrified,” he said. “I want to be sure the kids have a good memory with their project.”