By Mary Boyle
Do you knit, crochet, quilt, or sew? Do you love to garden, bake, or can food? Perhaps you're a woodworker, or a photographer. Maybe you are a beekeeper, or you make your own wine or maple syrup. Do you paint, make baskets or ceramics, or make things out of leather? Are you a poet, a scrapbook or greeting card maker, or do you make your own soap or candles? Possibly you just have a really cool collection of something? If any of that, and more, applies to you, then the Ozaukee County Fair wants you for their Open Class Division.
The Ozaukee County Fair - one of the last free fairs in the Midwest - is organized each year by the Ozaukee County Agriculture Society. Every first Sunday in August, the Fair comes to a close, but the planning for the next one begins. Anyone can become a member of the Society for a very little fee, and if you really want to be involved in the Fair, you can take a turn serving on the Board, like Jamie Nevins, who is hoping to bring a little more attention to the Open Class Division, an often overlooked opportunity at the Fair.
Most people are aware that various 4-H groups show their horses, chickens, pigs, cows, and other farm animals at the Fair to win ribbons, but they may not be aware that you do not need to be a part of 4-H to enter your animal. Not only that, you don't need to have an animal - there are all kinds of things that can be entered in the Open Class Division at the Fair.
"Open Class is for anyone in the County, and beyond," Nevins explained. "It doesn't cost anything to enter, it's open to all ages, and you can enter everything from art to produce, and more. With the explosion of the DIY movement, it seems like everyone is growing their own food or knitting their own sweaters - why not enter them at the Fair and get bragging rights?"
The deadline to enter items is June 30th, but Nevins hopes that letting people know before the Holidays will give them time to prepare (or at least make them think about saving one of their jars of pickles they canned this Fall). "We hire knowledgeable judges, and you can get feedback from them to help you, so it's a learning experience, but it's also validation for something you're already doing," Nevins said.
Terry Schoessow has worked with a wide variety of categories within the Open Class Division over many years as the Open Class Superintendent, and has seen many a beautiful quilt, cake, and photograph. She, too, is frustrated by the lack of awareness of this great opportunity.
"Many people don’t understand that the 'Open' Class means that it is open to anyone: little kids through adults. A person does NOT have to be a member of a group. We have people who enter from senior centers and group homes, homeschooling families, and couples who compete with each other in baking. There are people who enter one photo, and others who enter 25 photos - one in almost every category. One does NOT have to be a resident of Ozaukee County to enter any non-living class."
Schoessow said one of the greatest hurdles with the Open Class is the deadline, because the Fair is not on people's radar at the end of June. The other problem is making sure to follow the instructions at the top of each department, as different items must arrive at the Fair at different times. A list of available things to enter, called a Premium Book, is put online in late winter or early spring, with paper copies available at public libraries and various other places around the county. The 2017 Premium Book is still available online, and the books don't change drastically from year to year, so it's a good way to see all of the different categories.
"Commercial vegetable growers and florists have their own divisions to display their creations separately from the amateurs," Schoessow said, "And there is also Department 17, which is for anyone with a Special Need who lives in Ozaukee County. Fun categories, such as 'Tallest Weed,' 'Most Unusual Vegetable,' and 'Heaviest Cabbage' get attention."
Entering your work at the Ozaukee County Fair can bring more than ribbons, or even validation: Nevins mentioned that she hired a cake decorator whose work she saw at the Fair, so it's an excellent way to market your skills, as well. In any event, what better way to pass a long Wisconsin Winter than planning a project for a warm summer day at the Ozaukee County Fair?
For more information about the Open Class Division, go to: www.ozaukeecountyfair.com/premium-books/.