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Tiny, Mighty, Sometimes Ugly: an Ode to Some of the Alaska State Fair’s Overlooked Crops

The giant pumpkins and mammoth cabbages get all the attention at the Alaska State Fair.

But scores of other fruits and vegetables are also entered in competitions — some of the fair’s tiniest, longest or sometimes just downright ugly crops that rarely draw crowds but win prizes of their own based on weight, length and appearance.

This year, the summer’s lack of sunshine and abundance of rain hampered Alaska’s growing season, leading to smaller-than-usual entries in the fair’s fruit and vegetable contests that in better growing seasons have yielded new state and world records.

As wind ripped down walking paths and vendor tents last week, fairgoers took shelter inside the Craig Taylor Farm Exhibit, where the state’s giant vegetables are housed.

Near the entrance, a near-constant stream of visitors and selfie-takers gathered around this year’s massive prize-winning pumpkins.

The other, less famous entries sat on shelves in a room with pale green walls just beyond the oversized gourds and long rows of flowers resting under fluorescent lighting. The smell of livestock wafted in.

Rich Greenfield takes a selfie with Nina Malyshev in front of this year’s winning giant pumpkins at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Thursday. Dale Marshall’s 2,023.5-pound pumpkin, right, took first place in the annual contest. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
Women look at the Alaska State Fair’s giant vegetables at the Craig Taylor Farm Exhibit. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Nearby, Debbie Hinchey took her time as she delicately reorganized apples, smoothed out leaf samples and adjusted ribbons. She’s been a judge at the fair for nearly 30 years, and focuses primarily on the tree fruit category.

Often, these smaller fruit and vegetable competitions depend more on the number of entrants and if the contestants paid attention to the competition’s rulebook, Hinchey said.

Debbie Hinchey, a volunteer judge for tree fruits, talks with fairgoers while organizing apple entries. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
Debbie Hinchey organizes prize-winning apples that are on display. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

The weather is also a major factor.This year has been cooler, spring pollinators weren’t out as early and the rain was relentless, she said.

When Hinchey started judging around 1985, Alaska’s growing season was only three months long, from June through August. Now, it starts in May and extends into September. Variations of fruits have soared, including more than 300 varieties of apples.

“There’s a lot of fruit grown in this town that people don’t know about,” she said, making her way to a container of small kiwi berries.

The volunteers judging fruit and vegetables at the fair this year were generous with their awards, Hinchey said, acknowledging the cold and wet summer.

“That’s a lot of (this competition), it is just showing up,” she added.

Fairgoers didn’t seem to mind the smaller-than-usual entries.

Ty, second from left, and Dakota, third from left, communicate with their sign language interpreter as they view winning fruits and displays. (Emily Mesner / ADN)
An ear of corn placed first with a length of 9 1/8 inches at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. Behind are stalks of prize-winning rhubarb. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Texas resident Grace Markowitz gawked at the giant vegetable display.

“It’s amazing to see what all this rain and sunshine, when you actually have it, can do,” Markowitz said.

A handful of high schoolers took their time as they wandered the showroom.

“Dude, look at that leek!” said one, only to be corrected by his friend that the “leek” was in fact a nearly 10 1/2-foot-long gourd. “This is insane … I’ve never seen something like this before.”

First-place ribbons were awarded to a range of vegetables, plus a rogue strawberry weighing a whopping 1.9 ounces.First-place winning vegetables included an ear of corn measuring 9 1/8 inches that sat just above a bulb of garlic weighing in at just over 5 ounces, or about the weight of a baseball.

Beyond that, an almost 2 1/2-pound carrot with long, scraggly root hairs sat across from a slightly heftier tomato with clusters of small, wart-like appendages.

“Wow, that is … different,” Markowitz said after setting eyes on the shiny but lumpy red first-place winner. “I don’t know if it would be a good eating tomato.”

Source : Anchorage Daily News