State Fair Competitions :: One Local Mom Shares Her Experience

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The SC State Fair is now open for entries in a multitude of categories, and we at Columbia Mom think you might be inspired. Each year South Carolina’s finest agriculture, art, crafts, flowers, and livestock are showcased. 

Since many of our readers make yummy things to eat and beautiful things to wear, we think you should check out the home and craft competition in particular. Local mom, Alexandra Lundahl, says she loves how eclectic the fair is and the little bit of money is nice too. Last year, she and her daughter Kiera won a lot of ribbons. We asked Alexandra to share their story. 

Tell us how you got started with competing in the state fair.

In 2018, on a whim, I checked to see if the fair was accepting entries. They were! I had missed the deadline for free entries by a day or two, but I decided to pay the entry fee and entered two things. Both won first place and I was ecstatic! Then, in 2019, I entered six pieces of sewing and received two first place ribbons and two second place ribbons.

In 2020, the fair was canceled. During the pandemic, we homeschooled and did lots of homestead-type activities, so by the time the 2021 fair rolled around, I went all out with 28 entries for me. By that time, my oldest daughter was qualified (she turned six at the end of that September, which is the minimum age required to enter,) so I asked her if she wanted to try it. She leaped at the chance, entered three things, and won for each entry. First place for pickled product, second place for both a dress and a skirt.

Your six-year-old entered the canning and sewing competitions. How did that happen?

For the past few years, I have used my husband’s grandmother’s 14-day sweet pickle recipe to make the most amazing pickles from the cucumbers I grow in the garden. Last year I had another huge crop and so many batches of pickles, and I decided I’d enter some.

I asked my oldest, Kiera, if she wanted to make a batch all by herself that she could enter as well, and she was excited about it. She followed my directions, but she made a big batch of pickles all by herself, doing a new step (or few!) each day for two weeks. The only thing I did for her was some of the heavy lifting of giant jars and putting the jars in and out of the boiling water. She did everything else. 

When the pandemic was actually looking like it was getting better last summer, she and I masked up and went to the fabric store so we could each pick out fabric for our fair entries. We’d adopted a stray, pregnant cat who had four kittens in March, so all of Kiera’s fabric involved cats. She worked for a few months, a little bit at a time, on her very first dress and skirt and finished the latter just in time to enter them both in the fair. 

How did you get up to 28 entries?

Besides my sewing, I entered twelve different canning categories. My in-laws have a farm in Kentucky. On a visit, we helped pick apples and pears from their trees. The entire family worked together to can them. I was so excited to learn a new skill and was so enthusiastic about it that my mother-in-law, Evelyn Caldwell, bought me the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.

We picked extra pears to bring home and stopped by a cousin’s farm to bring home more veggies to can, and I spent the next few weeks in a hot, steamy kitchen canning ALL the things. My favorite definitely is the pear chutney and peach chutney. I never would have thought to make that if I hadn’t seen a category for it in the fair and had gotten the preserving book from my mother-in-law, but now I’ll have to make some every year.

My husband even got into the canning excitement and entered the pear butter that he made. It’s the only thing he’s ever entered in the fair and he ended up winning a first place prize. I also hopped on the pandemic sourdough craze. My friend Jessica gave me some of her sourdough starter and it seemed very pandemic-appropriate to enter some of my bread. I was shocked when it won a first place prize.

What is the process to enter like?

The list of categories is now posted. From those, I make my own list of things I already have to enter. Sometimes I pick a tag or two for something I haven’t done and make it a goal to get it done. There is no penalty for not getting something done even if you have a tag for it. You’ll find the entry dates and locations online. And, of course, info on prizes.

Tell us about the prizes.

First prizes earn a blue ribbon and a small cash prize. Last year our first prizes won either $6 or $10 each. Second prize earns a red ribbon. But mostly it’s just for the pride of entering and seeing your work displayed. There are so many talented people that you are competing with. My friend, Heather Hawfield, is one of my biggest competitors. It’s so fun to see everyone’s entries each year. 

Any encouraging words to share with our readers who may be interested in entering?

Everyone should find what makes them feel good and make time for it. We all need that. I spend all year sewing for my girls anyway, so I may as well see if anything wins a prize, but it also challenges me to make new things. The bonnet competition was my first time making one and that inspired a Halloween costume for my daughter. So, the challenges can be useful.

I’ve also felt a deep connection these past few years to homesteading type roots, from expanding my garden, learning how to can, making my own bread, and sewing even more. Having the fair as a place to exhibit some of these areas of passion is a great way to share some of these loves with others.

Are you going to enter anything in the State Fair? Have you entered a previous year? What has your experience been like?

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Melanie McGehee never knew she wanted to be a mom. Even marriage caught her somewhat by surprise, in spite of the fact that she met husband Andy through a matchmaking service. She thanked eharmony by writing about that experience for an anthology, A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love. Almost two years to the day after marrying him, she stared at two pink lines and wondered aloud, “Is this okay?” His response, “Kind of late to be asking that now.” It was a bit late – in life. But at the advanced maternal age of 35, she delivered by surprise at 35 weeks and an emergency C-section, a healthy baby boy. Ian, like Melanie, is an only child. She’s written much about him during her years with the blog, but he’s now a teenager. Please, don’t do the math. It’s true. Momming in middle age is the best!

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