It has been an interesting ride this past two months planning the first-ever DC State Fair.
Yeah, that's right--Jenna, Amelia, and I pulled it off in only two months (less, actually; it was just about seven weeks from the first meeting to the event this past Saturday). That really is no small feat, but it's because the DC community demanded to be involved--and we were more than happy (in fact, quite pleased!) to have them!
When we first announced what we were doing, there was some skepticism: DC State Fair had no history or any credibility as an organization. Trying to find a location to host pie and vegetable contests (we wanted just a table or two on a restaurant patio, for example) was difficult, until I hooked up with the organizers of Columbia Heights Day to secure a tent. Once we had that detail (time, location, some sort of legitimacy!), people started knocking down our door to be involved.
The response from the DC community was astounding. Overwhelming. The three of us continually touted that "DC State Fair is a need DC has"--and that was proven true countless times when organizations, businesses, and individuals stepped up to support us in so many ways. So many organizations and businesses were generous with donations and incredibly happy to be involved in the first-ever event, and the support from community members was never-ending. Local (and even out-of-"state"!) bloggers helped spread the word about us and how to enter our contests. TV and newspaper reporters sought us out to interview us and get the word out, as well.
It was like an avalanche. A tiny shout led to this huge outpouring of support, creativity, and energy that carried DC State Fair through to its amazing inaugural showcase of DC talent in baking, canning, photographing, growing, and brewing. DC State Fair grew much larger than any of the three of us anticipated in its first year, and we hope to get only larger in coming years!
There were way too many “favourite parts of the day” for me to list. Instead of a single instance to call my favourite, I value most the overwhelming sense of a job well done that permeated the event. Everyone--contestants, attendees, judges, sponsors, and volunteers--expressed so much gratitude and excitement that DC State Fair was happening and was going so successfully. Although Jenna, Amelia, and I were running around like crazy all day, the preparation we had done beforehand (planning how judging would go, creating entry drop-off and judging schedules, giving our vendors and volunteers information beforehand to know what to expect) really helped the day go fairly smoothly. Of course, there were snafoos--we needed an extra table for all of the cupcake entries, and the cupcake and pie contests judging took a few extra minutes--but we ran almost exactly to schedule. That is no small feat!
Personally, I appreciate the amazing help we received on the day of from our volunteers. We had about a dozen people come out to help set up the tent area, check in contestants and their entries, collect donations, run samples from entries to the judges, and even run to the nearby Giant and CVS to buy water and other supplies. My involvement in several local volunteer organizations makes me have a pretty soft spot for the folks who donate their time to help make something a success--without those volunteers helping sort cupcakes, slice pickles, and interact with contestants and passers-by, the three of us organizers would never have been able to handle keeping the schedule and ensuring that the day's events went as planned.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of events such as DC State Fair, and in that I am also counting those people who volunteered their time to blog about DC State Fair, to tweet about us, to create posters for us, to e-mail their friends or neighbours saying "Oh, you should enter that huge pumpkin you have growing in your back yard!" That's part of community engagement, and that's what DC State Fair is to me: community. A way to share, a way to educate one another, a way to meet your neighbours who share the same hobbies as you. I have made so many new friends and colleagues whom I never would have met other than through organizing DC State Fair, and I learned an incredible deal about what DC has to offer to the home cook, home brewer, home gardener, and everyone in between.
It feels weird to say this, because when I moved here, I complained incessantly about how I reviled DC, but... I love DC now. Thank you, DC State Fair and everyone who made it happen!
Speaking of making it happen, here are some snapshots I shamelessly stole from the Facebook photo album of Bryan of FoodNewsie. Bryan was a tireless supporter, graphic designer, official photographer, and all-around awesome dude. There are a lot more photos on the aforementioned Facebook photo album, as well as on the FoodNewsie website, and everywhere on the internet, from Flickr to the Washington Post (although some details are inaccurate, I like the part that says we were "the area that drew the most people" to Columbia Heights Day).
Here are Kelly (right) and Ali of Glittarazzi, one of our wonderful sponsors, posing in front of the fabulous two-foot by eight-foot banner I threw together. They got the chance to be first-round judges in the cupcake contest, as well as judging tomatoes!
The cupcakes were one of the most hotly contested, er, contests at the first-ever DC State Fair. The level of creativity DC baked-confection-makers have is astonishing! The arms you see here are of our volunteers and sponsors, who were able to be first-round judges for the cupcake contest to narrow down which ones would be tasted by the final panel of judges.
Here's me (center) handing out first-round judge forms to volunteers for the cupcake contest. Oh, they were so excited about their volunteer duties! Amelia (left) also got the chance to sample some baked delights. I, however, only got some frosting on my finger--and it was damned good frosting, too!
Here are the jam judges. Shakti (left, sitting) of Smörgie is a general sponsor of DC State Fair; Screwy Decimal (center) and BAT CAT are DC Rollergirls, our roller derby home-team. Why would Rollergirls be involved in judging jam at the DC State Fair, you may ask? It's not that far a stretch, as they explained to us on the DC State Fair website. The cameragirl in the blue skirt was Sara Kenigsberg of TBD. She was there interviewing us and recording the happenings, which turned into a very nice video piece. To her right are Jenna and Amelia, sporting the ghetto-clever DC State Fair T-shirts that I made the night before. (We got some Columbia Heights Day DC flag shirts, and I used tape and spraypaint to get "DC State Fair" on them. My nose hairs were white and I was a bit loopy for a bit--I did that in my bathroom with no ventilation!)
Our judges had their hands (and mouths!) full throughout the day, tasting and scoring. This was the pie contest, with Marshall (left) of Scofflaw's Den; Nick (center) of Fat Man After Dark, one of our amazing sponsors who donated both money and a contest prize; and Olga of Mango & Tomato.
While judging the Funkiest-Looking Vegetable contest (a contest I convinced Soupergirl to sponsor with a prize because I wanted it to happen!), Mary of Girl Meets Food holds up the third-place winner: "Barrots." These are regular carrots, but they were grown next to beets, so they have an intense red colour. To her right sits Courtney Robinson from WJLA, who also judged the Funkiest-Looking Vegetable contest and officiated the drawing for prizes.
Kathy Jentz of Washington Gardener magazine sponsored the Biggest Vegetable category and so got to officiate the weighing and measuring of the vegetables. This was the contest otherwise known as "Everybody Wins!" Few gardeners entered our competitions, and when you have a three-way tie for second place for heaviest vegetable, well, that really does put a lot of people on the winners' list!
Bryan took a nice photo of me and the friendly WJLA newsreporter, Courtney, after the drawing prizes were announced and before she dashed off to officiate Columbia Heights Day's cupcake-eating contest. Wish I could have watched it, but it was at least 50 feet away from the DC State Fair tent!
DC State Fair, you rocked my socks!