MIAMI COUNTY — Barrie VanKirk of Covington had his very own Leonardo DiCaprio moment at the Miami County Fair after he finally clinched the Golden Trowel Award after competing on and off for it since the 80s.
“It’s been a long, hard haul. Finally made it,” VanKirk said after receiving the award Sunday evening. “The first year they gave out the Golden Trowel Award, I got out here too late, and they wouldn’t let me set up my stuff, and I missed out on it, and I’ve been chasing it ever since.” Vankirk jokingly added, “I’m sure they’re getting tired of me coming.”
VanKirk entered a variety of items in the Horticulture Hall, including a scarecrow, canned goods, herbs, and more vegetables. He got a blue ribbon in his green beans and a first in his tomatoes. VanKirk also entered baked goods in the Art Hall, including brownies and candy.
“It’s a special ‘Specatula’ tomato that I hybrid-ed myself,” VanKirk said.
The highlight of VanKirk’s entries was a washtub with nine vegetables all producing, including green beans, corn, radishes, Brussels sprout, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, beets, and musk melon.
“Right now, everybody’s into farming for the purpose of sustainable gardening,” VanKirk said, explaining that was what his washtub of vegetables was about. “(It) is teaching people how to recognize vegetables and that we can grow and be sustainable with our ability to grow our own food.”
While VanKirk has been after the Golden Trowel Award since the 80s, he’s been participating in the Miami County Fair since the 70s.
“This is actually my 45th year of entering things on and off. My wife and I started years ago in 1971, and we entered candles and paintings and all kinds of good stuff,” VanKirk said. He said that, even as kid, creating those kinds of items and learning to garden was both a pastime and a necessity.
“It’s how we used to keep busy. My dad would say, ‘Get out in the garden, here’s a bucket,’” VanKirk said.
Gardening has always been a part of the family for VanKirk, so much so that it is just in his blood.
“My mom grew beautiful flowers, and my dad grew beautiful vegetables … It’s just in the family line. I got a green thumb,” VanKirk said. “I can stick a branch in the ground and it usually grows. I figured, what the heck, it’s something I like to do and can do well.”
If that was not enough for VanKirk, he also stacked the deck by taking the OSU Master Gardener’s course this year. VanKirk joked that he did that so he could clinch in the Golden Trowel Award.
Overall, VanKirk stayed true and hopeful in competing at the fair over the years.
“It all depends from year to year — your inspiration and how well you impress the judge,” VanKirk said.
Alongside him, Kathy Ingle of Covington won the Baker’s Delight Award.
“I’m surprised. Very surprised,” Ingle said.
Ingle entered multiple baked goods, including pie, two cakes, cookies, peanut butter fudge, zucchini bread, and coffee cake. Ingle also won Best of Show for her coffee cake and her peanut butter fudge, which was her mother’s recipe. She added that she had never before made the coffee cake recipe that ended up winning Best of Show, and she did not even get to taste it, either.
“She’s a fabulous baker because she gets it honest. Her mom was a great cook and so was her mother-in-law,” VanKirk said.
“I’m always clipping magazines,” Ingle said. “I’ve always liked to cook. I have a real weakness for cookbooks.”
Ingle has also been participating in the Miami County Fair most of her life. “I started in 4-H,” she said.
Ingle said that after she got out of high school, got married, and started a family, she was back at the fair again when her kids got old enough for 4-H. She started entering for herself again around that time, and she has been doing that ever since. Ingle has three children and five grandchildren, one of whom, Allison Ingle, won the Baker’s Delight Award two years ago.
“The fair’s been a way of life for my family,” Ingle said. “We have a real family tradition here.”
This year’s Artisan of the Year award went to Sharon Dehus, who did not attend the awards ceremony for the Art and Horticulture Hall.
Reach Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336