Ribbon referees: Volunteer judges play important role in fair

Burt Scripture contemplates the placement of floral entries Tuesday, July 29, in the Horticultural Building at the Crow Wing County Fair. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Burt Scripture bent closer and craned his neck, eyes narrowing behind his glasses.

For a silent moment, he examined a group of daisies arranged on a table that to the untrained eye looked nearly identical. Then, a declaration: “One, two, three,” Scripture rattled off, pointing to those he’d just selected as ribbon winners for this year’s Crow Wing County Fair.

Rows and rows of fragrant and eye-catching blooms and artistic floral arrangements fill one half of the building, while the other half features picture-perfect fruits, vegetables and grains. An annual ritual occurring the night before the fair opens to the public, judging of fair entries takes attention to detail and knowledge of the subject -- two traits Scripture has in spades. He and wife Carla, who judged her way through the annual plant entries across the room, once counted themselves among those vying for ribbons before lending their judging talents. The couple has nurtured gladiolas in their home garden for nearly 30 years and Burt Scripture serves as president of the North American Gladiolus Council.

Carla Scripture takes a close look at floral arrangements Tuesday, July 29, in the Horticultural Building at the Crow Wing County Fair. Scripture and her husband were judges assigning ribbons. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch


“That’s how we got here. I volunteered to judge the gladiolas, because I just couldn’t believe how they did it,” Scripture said. “We’ve been judging most everything since.”

The passion for plants the Scriptures carry is what Mary Rumpho-Kennedy hopes the display ignites in fairgoers when they walk through the Horticultural Building. Rumpho-Kennedy is a Crow Wing County master gardener whose volunteer hours are focused on the fair.

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Crow Wing County Master Gardener Mary Rumpho-Kennedy talks Tuesday, July 29, about participation in the floral, grain and vegetable competitions at the Crow Wing County Fair. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

“(It’s about) getting people involved in growing plants and appreciating the value of them,” she said, “... and to encourage the youth to submit things, and they can win money and ribbons. … It shows what grows in Crow Wing County and encourages people to continue gardening and farming.”

Rumpho-Kennedy said she was impressed with the gusto of this year’s participants in light of the challenging weather conditions faced by those who love to grow. An unusually cold winter and spring -- making planting happen later and encouraging deer predation -- coupled with sometimes incessant rainfall in the months since made producing viable flowers, vegetables and other crops a very difficult task. It’s evident in the smaller number of entries than usual, particularly in the vegetable and grain categories, she said.

“I think the climate this summer has been hard, and we’re behind -- two weeks behind in the growing season, is what some of the farmers told me,” she said. “Last year, I had to stack some of the baskets (of vegetables) because there was so many. But floral department is good, despite the heavy rain yesterday.”

Weather aside, Rumpho-Kennedy said she wants more people to enter the fruits of their labor and have the opportunity to take pride in winning a ribbon and a few bucks, too.


Carol and Wesley Urdahl, who judged the vegetables and fruits entries, shared similar sentiments about the contents of the Horticultural Building. Wesley Urdahl has long been involved in fairs, beginning with his roots as a 4-H member and avid gardener. He enjoys seeing those traditions continue, he said.

Wesley (left) and Carol Urdahl, along with Crow Wing County master gardeners look at youth vegetable entries Tuesday, July 29, to select winners. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

“For the youth, it’s getting them involved in growing something and taking care of the soil and being a good steward, learning how to handle weeds and insects,” he said. “All 4-H things.”

The Urdahls said one of the reasons they enjoy participating as judges is the opportunity to see different or surprising entries.

“Celery is one thing, rutabagas over there are unusual because they’re so hard to grow,” Wesley Urdahl said. “Ripe tomatoes would be unusual this year.”

Grains judge Loren Refsland echoed the sentiments expressed by the other volunteers who help make the display happen. He said although his expertise lies in grains -- he’s been involved in farming and grain production 60 of his 65 years -- he enjoys seeing all the other plants and flowers in the building, too.

“It’s a good deal. I think it’s good for the community to have this. It encourages other people to try it and see what they can do,” Refsland said.


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Loren Refsland compares corn stalks Tuesday, July 29, to evaluate which is the best in the Horticultural Building at the Crow Wing County Fair. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

His advice for those inspired to give it a go next year? “Start early. Plan. Take care of the crop while it’s growing, and when you bring it in, try to make it look as aesthetic as you can. Don’t beat it up, and try to group it together nicely. Just, try your best, that’s all you can do.”

Entering items at the fair isn’t limited to things that can be grown. An array of categories invite people to enter, including baking, canning, home brewing, homemaking crafts, garment making, quilts, hobbies, art, photography, and a number of livestock categories.

Court of Honor winners

The Court of Honor displays the top winners selected among floral, fruit and vegetable and grain categories at the Crow Wing County Fair. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

  • Best in Show, Adult Floral: Jennifer Lee.

  • Best in Show, Youth Floral: Sadie Albrecht.

Sweepstakes honors are given to those who earn the most blue ribbons in their respective category.

  • Sweepstakes, Floral: Rose Speldrich.

  • Sweepstakes, Fruits and Vegetables: Kylee Nelson.

  • Sweepstakes, Field Crops: Marion Durham.


Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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