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The fairgrounds Industrial Building bustled Monday morning with people hauling in canned and baked goods, produce and cut flowers.

Jars filled the check-in table in front of Lucinda Canchola as she filled out forms listing the contents — from peaches, jam and pickles to barbecue sauces, candied jalapenos and even dried herbs.

Staff and volunteers tagged the entries and placed them among a growing array to be judged and displayed during the Central Wyoming Fair & Rodeo.

Canchola always loved perusing the open exhibits that anyone can enter at the fair. It was about five years ago some of staff members said she should enter and handed her a booklet.

She thought, “‘I can make that, I can do that.’”

For generations, people have brought prized recipes and home-grown and homemade goods to the fair, said Marsha Cashel, who helps arrange and supervise the exhibitions during fair week.

It’s a tradition that has begun to fade as times change, Cashel said. But anyone in the community can enter projects in wide variety of categories; which include quilts, artwork, decorated cakes, antiques and even a table-setting contest.

It’s something families can do together and a way to unplug from cell phones and TV screens, she added.

“There’s just so much fun that people don’t know about. They need to get a fair book and see all that’s going on,” Cashel said. “They can do salad dressings and sewing, there’s not a thing they can’t do.”

Creativity and hard work

Canchola and her family exchange homemade gifts for Christmas, and now she sets a few items aside to enter into the fair, she said. Sometimes its canning and other times crotchet.

She’s also a 4H leader who helps young people enter their projects and agricultural animals into the fair. Many people don’t know that under open class, anyone enter creations from flower arrangements to model cars, she said. There’s much for people to see and be inspired by to create their own projects next year, she added.

“It’s not just pigs and chickens at fair,” Canchola said.

And there’s no shortage of variety and creativity.

Michelle Starkey set a dog made of flowering sprouts on a check-in table and switched on a string of lights to grins from the staff. She’d been wanting to create a plant sculpture for years and decided to go for it when she found a dog-shaped porch ornament she could fill with dirt and sedum — a plant that can grow on all kinds of surfaces.

She’s brought her gardening creations to the fair for about 20 years, she said. This year’s included a ring with a tiny glass dome terrarium and a recycled picture frame she started growing plants on three years ago.

“I do off-the-wall stuff,” Starkey said. “I just make them up as I go.”

The fair is a chance to show off her creations and see what others grew and created.

“I just love seeing all the handiwork and all the lovely things that people work really hard on,” she said.

The open class competitions even include an annual barbecue contest, where the winners take home cash prizes and grills. Neal Ruebush woke about 3:30 a.m. Sunday to light his grill, and he spent the next 12 hours preparing his beef brisket and pork ribs for the fair.

“It’s so tender I can pull it apart,” a judge said that afternoon, as she cut into his brisket with a plastic fork.

A couple of friends told him he’d better enter the competition five years ago, and he’s been a regular since.

He smokes his meat on wood from his home state of New Mexico, which also influences his cooking in the form of chili peppers he uses in his sauces.

His brisket unanimously took the grand prize Sunday in a closed judging session.

“I’m thrilled. A lot of hard work goes into this,” Ruebush said.

Family affair at the fair

Michele Soulek leaned over a colorful array of flowers, vegetables and herbs from her garden on Monday as she worked her way through three bins full of fair entries. She’d spent two hours cutting the night before and started again at 6 a.m.

She came up with the names for her flower arrangements on the drive over.

“I’d like to call this one ‘Walking on Sunshine,’” she told the check-in staff member as she tweaked a bouquet of yellow flowers.

The next day, she and her 10-year-old son would see what ribbons they won for her gardening and his artwork, crafts and Boy Scout projects. It’s a family tradition for them to don cowboy hats and boots to spend a day at the fair and watch the rodeo. She wears a skirt she’s made of her fair ribbons.

“We just make a day out of it, and it’s just fabulous,” Soulek said. “We’re so lucky to have the fair here in Casper.”

Ava Garvin, 10 and her brother Christian Garvin, 11, spent Monday morning checking in herbs, flowers, baked items and even cookie jars.

The siblings missed the deadlines for art and photography, which they’ve won ribbons for in the past. But they spent the weekend preparing baking, gardening and creating crafts for categories they chose from the fair book. Ava’s included a poppy seed cake and banana bread, and Christian baked a raspberry pie from a recipe his grandmother taught him.

“It was all the things we could do before the last deadline,” Christian said. After finishing a big pie, he figured out the fair entries were supposed to be four inches, so he baked a smaller one.

“And then we got to eat the big pie,” his sister said.

One of the toughest tasks was decorating gallon jars for their cookie jar entries. Ava had to repaint her bunnies a few times while Christian’s stripes on an American flag-themed jar kept smearing together. But they worked until they’d finished jars they’re proud to display, they said.

They’d have never tried painting cookie jars if it weren’t for the fair, they said.

“It’s a way to practice stuff,” Christian said. “And it’s fun to try new things.”

Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner


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