Farm Horizons, August 2012

Judges for county fairs enjoy meeting good young people

By Jen Kotila, Staff Writer

Judging for county fairs and the state fair is not something one will get rich doing, but it is something that enriches the judge’s life. Not only are the judges learning new things from the young people they are judging, but they are also meeting good young people, as well as other people who judge.

Dwayne and Rande Sue Diers of Waverly, and Carolyn Decker of Dassel judge general exhibits for county fairs. Dwayne also runs the dairy steer program for the Minnesota State Fair, and Carloyn judges at the state fair.

County fair judges are local volunteers who have expertise in the areas they judge, either as a profession or as a hobby, according to Rachel Bender, Carver County 4-H program coordinator.

Judges are only paid for their mileage and a meal when they judge at county fairs. “It’s usually the hottest days of summer, in large Menards or Lester Building Systems (sheds) with no air conditioning,” Carolyn said. “But I enjoy it. It is a way to give back and learn new things.”

Judges must enjoy working with youth, as well as be willing to listen and teach at the same time, Bender said. Most judges have gone through regional trainings to hone their skills. State fair judges have typically been judging for a long time.

Dwayne noted that judges must remain positive, so the young person can learn. Judges should also help the young 4-H’er learn more about their project, so they can do better next time. He noted that the youth are judged 50 percent on the conference they have with the judge, and 50 percent on the actual project.

Dwayne and Rande took a training class to become judges. Carolyn was a 10-year 4-H graduate, who was asked to be a judge when she completed college. Rande has been judging for more than five years, and Dwayne has been judging for about two years, as well as helping with the dairy steer program at the state fair for about 20 years. Carolyn has judged at county fairs for 31 years, and at the state fair for 12.

Although they are asked which areas they feel most comfortable judging, there are times when judges have to go out of their fields of comfort to judge a category for which it is hard to find judges.

For instance, Carolyn did not know anything about rockets and was asked to be a judge for that category once. “The first kid I had to judge was an expert on rockets, so I gleaned from him,” she said, noting it made it easier for her to judge the following projects after learning from him.

The 4-H coordinators have access to a list of judges from which they can call to judge county fair projects. For livestock, they try to get someone from outside of the area, to prevent bias with youth they may know, according to Tracey Hedtke, the office manager at Meeker County Extension Service.

Some judges are at several fairs judging 4-H projects, and some only go to one or two. Carolyn begins her judging rounds about July 15, and judges eight to nine county fairs each year. She goes as far north as Todd County, as far south as Blue Earth County, as far west as Chippewa County, and as far east as Dakota County. She ends with the McLeod County Fair, which takes place right before the Minnesota State Fair judging. Judging usually occurs Mondays and Tuesdays.

“It gives me a chance to see good kids, who are polite and respectful,” Carolyn said. “4-H has a lot of benefits; kids learn time management, organization, and sharing.”

When judging projects, Carolyn is most often looking for growth in the project area as 4-H’ers mature. “If you have a 17-year-old with chocolate chip cookies – no – especially if she has been in the project for a number of years. She should be beyond that,” Carolyn said.

However, when a 4-H’ers has grown in their project area, and really put forth the effort, it can be rewarding both for the judge and for the 4-H’er. “I saw a 4-H graduate with 13 years in 4-H. Her final project was an ultimate – everything was from scratch. She received grand champion,” Carolyn said, noting it is nice to see how youth have grown and matured in a project area.

Dairy steer program

For the dairy steer program, Dwayne works with the beef show committee at the Minnesota State Fair. It is the committees job to make sure all the animals are identified, weighed, and have ear tags. They also makes sure all 4-Hers showing in the program are interviewed.

Dwayne is in charge of finding the people needed to help in the judges ring. About six volunteers are needed per show ring when the judging is taking place, he said.

In the off-season, the beef steer committee meets to go over what went right or wrong, how they can improve things at the state fair, and help each other find judges. “It’s nice to work with a lot of good people,” Dwayne said, noting they are all volunteers.

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