By Margie Wuebker
Tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and squash everywhere. Toss in green beans, wax beans, pumpkins and peppers of every shape and size. Stir in unusual specimens for added interest.
Judge Terry Hipsley of Van Wert faced a veritable smorgasbord of local vegetables and fruit Tuesday afternoon at the 154th Mercer County Banner Fair.
He examined each entry but lingered over a class featuring misshapen oddities billed as "freaks of nature."
"This is the most unusual thing I've seen in 25 years of judging," Hipsley says studying a stalk that appears to be a distant relative to tasseled cornstalks plucked from area farm fields. "Cross pollination occurred somewhere along the line."
The strange mutation bears green pompom-like protrusions instead of ears generously filled with plump kernels. Hipsley suspects pollen from broom corn or sorghum might be responsible. He awarded exhibitor David Knapke a blue ribbon as well as the Shives Award plaque given in memory of longtime Fair Board member Barb Pierce.
"I imagine he was shocked when this turned up in the cornfield," Hipsley added with a smile. "I know I would be."
Another "out of the ordinary" entry that drew the judge's attention was three green quinces still attached to a sturdy stem.
"Twin quinces are not uncommon," he says inspecting Margaret Flaute's entry. "But I've never seen a triple before. This is another oddity."
Brenda Robinson's Coldwater garden produced something other than run-of-the-mill tomatoes. One half of the misshapen entry is bright red to the point where visions of bacon, lettuce and tomatoes dance through the heads of visitors. The other half remains green as grass, appealing only to diehard fried green tomato aficionados.
Other oddities included potatoes and red beets with whimsical protrusions making them look more like creatures than vegetables, conjoined cucumbers and a mama onion with lots of attached babies.
Hipsley expressed pleasure at the display of vegetables and fruits, noting area gardeners weathered periods of drought and drenching rain.
"I see something going on with the green peppers, apples and pears," he says thoughtfully. "I believe that something could very well be drought at the wrong time."
Tomatoes are running about 30 days behind in most areas of the county judging from the display. However, Hipsley terms the field corn, zucchini and cucumbers brought to the fair excellent.
"Make sure your windows are up if you drive into the driveway of a zucchini or cucumber grower this summer," he adds with a chuckle. "Those growers are up to their ears and looking for ways to get rid of a bumper crop. You might wind up with a backseat filled with something unexpected."
Hipsley looks for uniformity, color and cleanliness, encouraging would-be exhibitors to think three words -- "Xerox, Xerox and Xerox" -- when selecting fruits or vegetables. None should be larger or smaller than its counterpart on the display plate.
Loretta Fast, who turns 94 in November, knows the drill after decades of fair competition. Her list of entries includes a dozen vegetables and nearly two dozen floral specimens.
"I guess onions are my favorite because they're easy to grow," she says. "Tomatoes require a little more work and my potato days are over."
Fast makes quite a picture as she heads for the garden with a sturdy cane in one hand and a hoe in the other. Benches placed here and there provide comfortable places to rest.
"My daughter (Vicki Muse of Columbus) put them out there," she explains. "She also helps with the planting and getting ready for the fair."
Their efforts yielded blue ribbons for banana peppers, white Spanish onions, pear tomatoes and a whimsical scarecrow sure to keep crows out of the corn patch.
"A woman my age does not throw away anything," Fast confides. "I had all these clay pots stored in the chicken coop and Vicki suggested we use them in making a scarecrow."
Bright magenta, green, blue and yellow streamers give the illusion of hair while beaded necklaces and bracelets add a fashionable touch. A satiny blue scarf deftly tied around the scarecrow's mid-section adds personality to the one-of-a-kind entry.
"I imagine the birds heading to my garden will not believe their eyes when they see this thing," Fast says. "Even the judge was impressed."