Many of the judges have been doing the job for years, checking the seams on home-sewn items or sampling the wine sent from vineyards near and far.
"Nine a.m. is the best time to taste wine," said Chuck Madinger, founder of Madinger Wines in St. Louis and a longtime veteran of the wine competition. "The taste buds are more awake."
Madinger and his fellow judges, Fred and Tina Higdon, had a long day ahead -- 95 bottles of wine, many of traditional varieties but also some made from alternatives to grapes like apples and elderberries. The Higdons, first-time judges, were putting skills honed in classes on wine to work as they scored and commented on cards accompanying each new offering.
Across the A.C. Brase Arena Building, University of Missouri horticulture specialist Donna Aufdenberg was putting ribbons on plates of tomatoes, piles of green beans and judging which watermelons had the best color and shape.
The key to a winning entry, she said, is uniformity of the produce as well as the size and color. Among tomatoes, for example, she counts off for blemishes and if the top of the fruit is split at the stem. "It goes back to knowing your varieties and knowing what you would buy in a store," she said.
Growers presented fewer offerings for this year's fair, Aufdenberg said, especially among the tomatoes and onions. "It was a horrible year for onions," she said. "And peppers have been a challenge."
Monday was the day for judging the skills of home artisans, gardeners, future farmers and photographers. Later this week, judges will consider the qualities of livestock from hogs to horses.
In the field crops competition, everything from corn to soybeans and sorghum to hay in eight varieties was on the schedule for judging. And while there may be little difference from one hay bale to another for the untrained eye, each bale tells its own story to someone with experience, said Anthony Ohmes, an extension agronomist based in Charleston, Mo. The bales are judged on leafiness, smell, uniformity and palatability, Ohmes said.
If the hay has been allowed to dry too long and has become brittle or if there is evidence of undesirable weeds in the cutting, points are deducted, he said.
Back in the Arena Building, judges looking over two fields of endeavor -- home sewing and home-canned foods -- lamented the declining number of entries. Both are staple skills that have, for many families, lost favor as the time and expense involved intrudes on the demands of two-earner households.
"All of the entries are down" in numbers in the homemade clothing and quilts divisions of home economics, said judge Shirley Aufdenberg, who is in her 25th year as a judge. She attributed part of the decline to this year's high fuel prices keeping some away, but far fewer people are making their own clothing from patterns than did when she was younger, she noted.
Both patterns and fabrics are noticeably more expensive than in the past, she said, and younger people who have been taught the skill are not using it as adults.
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