September 2019

State Fair of Virginia is the
‘Best of Virginia’

The very “Best of Virginia” is on display every fall at the State Fair of Virginia. From agricultural exhibits to competition displays and entertainment, the fair showcases Virginians’ incredible skills and talents.

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation (VFBF) purchased full ownership of the State Fair in 2013 with the objective of highlighting the immense talent of Virginians and increasing agriculture’s presence at the event.

“It’s in Farm Bureau’s DNA to showcase the best of Virginia at the fair, which includes agriculture,” says VFBF President Wayne F. Pryor. “One of our primary objectives has been to find new and exciting ways to exhibit Virginia’s diverse agriculture — from farm animals to row crops, to aquaculture and farmers’ markets. We do that with the livestock competitions, as well as with the horticulture and culinary arts competitions.”

Showcasing the best of Virginia at the State Fair was the focus of a recent rebranding process. The fair’s new mission is to “nurture, preserve and celebrate the best of Virginia’s culture: past, present and future.”

Marlene Jolliffe, the fair’s executive director, says organizers are excited for fairgoers to see the results of the rebranding.

“Our goal for future state fairs is to stay committed to showcasing Virginia’s unique qualities: its landscape, culture, history and people. The stories we tell through State Fair programs will focus on celebration and inspiration!”

The fair offers more than 2,300 categories for competitions so citizens’ talents can shine — everything from hand crafts and creative cuisine to crops, livestock and vocational skills.

“There’s a competition for everyone, from youth to adult, and we take great care to display these prize-winning entries during the 10-day fair,” says Stuart Sanders, the fair’s assistant executive director and educational programs manager. “Our competitions give people the opportunity to submit their best work.”

Blue Ribbon Winners

Ricky Atkins – Southampton County

Atkins has produced super-size pumpkins that usually weigh more than 1,000 pounds. He needs a crane-like net to load them onto a truck for transportation to the State Fair Giant Pumpkin Competition.

He and his family captured the top three awards at the 2018 fair’s giant pumpkin judging.

Atkins’ 1,217-pound pumpkin was his third consecutive first-place win. His wife, Brenda, took second place with a 1,069-pound pumpkin, and his stepdaughter, Brittany Johnson, won third place with a 912-pound pumpkin.

“Growing pumpkins is a real passion,” Atkins says. “I can’t do it alone. My family steps in to help. They all chip in. This is something we put our heart in.”

Nancy Riggs – Hanover County

Riggs entered her first State Fair competition two years ago. “I entered an afghan I crocheted for my granddaughter, and it won a blue ribbon,” she says proudly.

In 2018 she decided to enter crocheted items along with baked goods, submitting a pound cake and a pineapple-coconut pie that is a family favorite.

“The pound cake was so good, I thought it would win something,” she explains. “But the pie won Best Pie of the State Fair,” she says. “I’ve made that pie recipe for years and years and was so thrilled that it won.”

Michael and Elizabeth Lipford -Henrico County

The Lipfords grow a lot of produce in their garden and preserve it by canning.

“We grow enough food to eat during the season, but extend that food throughout the whole year,” Elizabeth Lipford says. “There’s nothing like opening up fresh tomatoes or salsa in the middle of winter. It smells like summer. It’s almost as good as fresh.”

About 15 years ago the Lipfords felt like their hobby was successful, so they and their three children started entering canned goods at the State Fair. “Our grape jam won a blue ribbon one year, and we’ve placed second and third for our salsa. We’re still trying to get that blue ribbon for the salsa. It’s my favorite to can,” Lipford says.

Michael Lipford also is a beekeeper and has entered his honey in the open honey competition.

Scholarship opportunities abound

In addition to bragging rights, many blue-ribbon winners receive prizes and scholarships.

Since 2013 the State Fair has awarded more than 1,270 scholarships and has dedicated more than $472,000 to youth education. The fair offers more than $80,000 each year in scholarship money through 4-H, FFA and vocational competitions and specific equine, fine arts and horticulture competitions.

“We remain committed to nurturing future leaders by offering these scholarship opportunities,” Pryor says. “Investing in the talents of other Virginians and showcasing those talents is what makes the State Fair of Virginia the very best.”