Angelo Iacovetto figures he has been the king of Routt County garlic since about 1970.
"No one has beaten me yet. No one even comes close," Iacovetto said with a satisfied smile and a twinkle in his eye as he surveyed neatly planted rows of high altitude garlic he was about to dig up. He grows two kinds of garlic next to Pearl Lake, a white one and a rosy lavender variety, each pungent and slightly spicy -- "just like garlic should be."
Both types have earned him top honors at the Routt County Fair for more than three decades and stoked a garlic rivalry that has his neighbors attempting to beat him year in and year out in the annual home arts competition.
On Wednesday, old timers such as Iacovetto and newcomers from throughout Routt County will be competing for ribbons in everything from Swiss chard to sausage, stitching and strawberry wine. It's the home arts competition at the Routt County Fair, and it's known across the state for its stiff competition.
"People tell us from time to time we're the best on the Western Slope," Colorado State Extension Agent Debbie Alpe said as she prepared the exhibit hall at the fairgrounds last week. "It's not just the old timers out there doing their thing. It's a blend. That's what keeps it interesting."
The Routt County Fair's home arts competition always draws at least 1,000 exhibits, Alpe said. It hit an all-time high in 2002 with 1,367 exhibits.
With cool, damp weather this summer, Alpe predicted this fair will feature a stellar showing of vegetables, cut flowers and the pickled and canned goods that come from a vibrant growing season.
The home arts competition is a showcase of Routt County talents that is open to anybody and everybody as long as it is a Routt County product that has never been shown or competed in another show before.
"The home arts show keeps a whole new set of people coming in," Alpe said. She said the county's new residents mix right in with "traditional residents."
Pat Zabel, a transplant from Minnesota, took up quilting with the Wednesday quilting group at the United Methodist Church. Now she's jumping into the fair competition with a quilt of intricate barns she spent the past year piecing together. Sloughing off compliments on her handiwork, Zabel said she heard it's tough competition and the judges can be pretty picky at the Routt County Fair.
Rebecca Wattles, who grew up doing 4-H in Hayden and whose children carried on the tradition with rabbits and horses as they were growing up, is getting into the action with two rug hooking projects this year.
"As an adult, it's a great way to stay in the fair," Wattles said. "It's a nice tradition to keep up and I try to enter every year. It's fun and it really gets you some small-town atmosphere."
The list of categories caters to everyone from a preschooler to seniors and includes every art and craft imaginable. If a contestant shows up with something that's not on the list, they'll find a category for it, exhibit hall superintendent Linda Long said.
And if you think hobbies such as gardening, canning, pickling, sewing or leatherworking are "old" or "disappearing," that's a mistake, Alpe said. Routt County has seen a revival in traditional arts like knitting and quilting, and a boom in wool rug hooking in the past few years. She called it a "leisure arts revival," adding that it often focuses on home beautification.
"People have maybe turned to it as a way of staying sane," Alpe said.
Long said she has entered just about every home arts department with the exception of art in the past -- and she has chocked up a few grand champion rosettes doing it. Having competed in the fair throughout her life, she said the biggest change she has seen during the years is a drop in canned goods and clothing, items people don't depend on for household survival like they used to.
Regardless, there are always plenty of people ready to compete in the slew of home arts categories listed on 27 pages of fine print in the fair's guide, right down to the canned meat items, Long said.
Entering the home arts competition is a long-standing tradition for generations of Routt County residents.
There are so many ribbons hanging from the wall in the attic bedroom in Doris Knott's aging log home near Oak Creek that she has them layered thick on sheets of hanging fabric. Knott modestly clicked off the names of other Routt County residents who she was sure had earned more ribbons in a lifetime of home arts competitions, but there's no mistaking the sea of purple rosettes she has accumulated.
Knott has made award-winning jellies, fudge, divinity, covered mints and cookies during the years. But to hear her talk, it's the homemade wine that has been her pride and joy.
"I think I've made just about every kind of wine except carrot," Knott said. She reminisced about a crop of chokecherries that made wine so strong the judge called it her "fortified wine." And she once had dandelion wine that tasted so bad she threw it out, except for one quart she kept for five years, opened and found out, "Hell, it was good!"
Knott's husband, Dan, said after fair judges used to taste the wines, then his wife and her winemaking friends would sip the rest of the glasses dry along with tidbits of bread to break up the flavors of fermented raspberries, serviceberries and plums.
"Some of them women were just a little bit tipsy at the end," Dan Knott said, laughing.
Entries for the home arts competition will be accepted from 1 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the exhibit hall at the fairgrounds. The entries will be judged Thursday and will remain on display until 2 p.m. Aug. 22.
For the garlic growers in the county, here's a little inside scoop on the garlic competition: Angelo Iacovetto isn't competing this year, but his grandson, Justin Iacovetto, is primed to take over the championship with garlic carefully tended under his grandfather's expertise.
"He raised some nice garlic," Angelo Iacovetto said. "I'm going to quit while I'm still a champ."
--To reach Jennie Lay call 871-4210
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