Steamboat Springs A few weeks before the county fair every summer, Andy and Eddie Brenner are in the family garden looking for the perfect 8-inch zucchini.
The brothers Andy is 14, Eddie is 9 take a ruler with them on their search in hopes of finding one that will win them a ribbon at the Routt County Fair in mid-August.
"Whichever ones are doing good, we just keep watering them," Andy said.
The boys planted the zucchini plants on Memorial Day with their mother, Ann. Now it's getting close to harvest time.
The young green thumbs know what they're doing, too. They've picked a perfect 8-inch zucchini for the past four years and brought it to the exhibit hall at the fair. Each year the boys won a ribbon, and two years ago they were grand champions in their class.
On Aug. 14, people from all over the county will bring something to exhibit hall for judging and display. You can find canned tomatoes, quilting of the highest quality hanging from the ceilings and freshly picked flowers with their lingering aromas in the air. There are photographs of local landscapes, fresh baked goods, wine and beer, homemade clothes, corn, hay, leatherwork, woodwork, art and just about anything else that can be baked, preserved, grown, constructed, carved, sculpted or sewn.
It's the traditional home arts section, which gets some of the most participation during fair week, Aug. 10-18, in Hayden.
More than 1,000 items are brought to the exhibit hall to be judged by 20 judges every year.
"It's amazing. The whole exhibit hall is full," fair board coordinator Terry Doherty said. "I think it shows a lot of pride and heritage in Routt County."
Literally, anything can be entered into the fair. Items without an existing category will have a category created for them.
"They (the judges) are really good about accommodating people," Doherty said.
Though, technically, people are competing with each other when they enter an exhibit, for the most part, it's just for fun.
"It's the kind of thing our family does together," Ann Brenner said. "It's something we all do together and then it's fun to show everyone in the county what you did this summer."
The Brenner family enters numerous items in the fair, such as canned goods, machine-made breads, photos and cakes. In fact, Ann Brenner turned many heads last year with her garlic jelly, made from garlic from the garden.
"It's a real unique kind of jelly and it won grand champion that year. I had lots of people asking for recipes," she said.
Participating in the fair is participating in a tradition, one dating back to the first Routt County Fair in 1914.
Most people know the stories of the numerous prolific participants and winners in the home arts portion of the fair. One of the favorites is that of Helen Sherrod, who, until she passed away a little more than a year ago, entered an epic amount of items in crafts, canning, vegetables, garments, flowers, cookies and breads. In 1995, she brought home 37 ribbons. It was said that count was just a little above average.
But Sherrod didn't hang them on her wall. Every ribbon she won she gave back the Routt County Extension Office to recycle.
Linda Long, who organizes the home arts section of the fair, and her family is another good story. The family represents five generations of grand champions and blue-ribbon winners. Long has won champion honors in every field except one.
Though the staples of Routt County's historic cultures are found at the fair, the overall atmosphere is that of a community where everyone is welcome, even the new residents in town.
"Everyone is just so accepting when you come," Brita Horn said. "It doesn't matter if you live in the city or on a ranch."
Horn said for her, the home arts part of the fair gives her 7- and 5-year-old daughters projects for the summer. The girls enter 12 craft projects each year. On Friday, they were working on a pincushion shaped like an alligator.
"They work all summer on the projects," she said.
Anyone can enter their projects in the fair all day Aug. 14. Entries are accepted from 1 to 9 p.m.
"It's just fun to share and see and get new ideas," fair superintendent Suzie Copeland said. "And to see the talents of the community."
When it's over, participants then have their exhibits to keep.
For the Brenners, that means some good eating. They take home the 8-inch prizewinner for Ann to make a serving of fried zucchinis Andy and Eddie's favorite.
Information from the book "Faster Horses, Younger Women, Older Whiskey: A pictorial archive of the Routt County Fair 1914-1995" was used in this story. Written by Sureva Towler and Jim Stanko. Copyright 1996.