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Exhibitors at the annual Cleveland County Free Fair come from across the county and include all ages and backgrounds. While some exhibitors enjoy the competition others simply like learning and experiencing new things.
For Ashley Hughes, entering exhibits at the fair has always been a family affair.
“I’ve been entering the fair regularly since I was about 14, so that’s at least 20 years ago,” Hughes said. “My mom taught me and the goal became to make something you could enter at the fair. I think the first thing I ever entered was a pillow, and it won second place.”
Back then she entered with her sister. Now she has continued the family tradition, entering items with her children.
“We do canning and quilts and some knitting and needlework,” she said.
Hughes has entered canned items in every category, but specializes in jams, jellies and relishes. The family has also entered poultry. Entering is free and some categories have sponsored prizes, she said.
“The fair is a nice goal for the kids to have something to work at,” Hughes said. “There’s prize money too, and they’ll plan how they’d want to spend that. It’s something real and they’re not just on the computer screen. They get to work at a craft, and we often work on our projects together and it brings the family together.”
Others, like Norman veterinarian, Dr. John Otto, found the fair to be a fun outlet for a favored hobby. Otto enjoys baking and cooking to unwind. Over time, he started getting positive feedback from family and friends on his bread.
“A friend said my bread was the best she’s tasted, and I should enter the fair,” he said.
That friend was veterinary technician, Jan Haddad, a long-time fair entrant.
“I’ve always done the state fair, and then I saw the county fair and entered,” Haddad said. “There are some contests like the bread that you have to win the county contest to enter the state, so I did that.”
Haddad encouraged Otto to enter his bread as well, but they compete in separate categories so the two friends don’t come up against each other. There are bread competitions with and without using the bread machine. Otto uses a bread machine and enters that category.
“I make bread the old-fashioned way,” Haddad said.
The friends have both won their share of ribbons. Otto said his bread entries have won at the county level then went on to win or place at the state fair.
“I’ve also entered muffins and cookies, but the bread has been the one that’s done the best,” he said.
Winners in that category can go on to the state fair and compete against other top competitors from all 77 counties.
“They look at texture and smell and appearance,” he said. “It’s pretty competitive, but I just do it for fun. It’s nice to be able to give loaves to friends, and you can say that it’s the best bread in the state.”
Otto said entering the fair was easier than he had anticipated.
“They were very welcoming and so nice,” he said. “Everyone is helpful when you enter and also when you’re picking up your ribbons afterward. The county fair is a great event. It’s a good way to bring the community together in a healthy way, and it builds relationships. It also allows you to show your creative side and works other areas of the brain. It’s fun to use your brain in different ways.”
Haddad is an accomplished runner who enjoys competing so that just naturally translated over into her baking and quilting entries at the fair.
“I’ve entered cookies and some needlework and quilting,” she said.
Haddad started entering the state fair because they used to give cash prizes. Though that’s no longer the case, the experience got her hooked, and she moved on to the county fair.
“Just do it. If it’s baking, make a couple of batches and pick the best to enter,” she said. “It’s easy to enter, you just have to find out how to do it. The people are very friendly and helpful.”
Any county resident, 4-H or FFA member, Oklahoma Home and Community Education member or anyone who attends a Cleveland County school can enter. For full guidelines on entering, pick up a fair book at the Fairgrounds Office, 615 E. Robinson St., Norman, or download the 2021 County Fair book from the county fair website here.
Here are some basic guidelines taken from the fair book, but see more detailed instructions under individual categories in the book you pick up or download.
STEPS TO ENTERING AND EXHIBITING: