Jackie was finally ten. She was old enough to take summer 4-H projects. Her brother, Todd, and sister, Mary, had already been in 4-H for a few years. They each had a Guernsey calf they were raising and showing, and they did vegetable gardening.
Jackie looked forward to exhibiting vegetables this year. She liked to see the boxes with corn, tomatoes, onions and the vibrant purple eggplant. Even as a young girl she knew by looking at the boxes which ones might win the blue ribbons. In the first place exhibits the green beans couldn't be wilted or brown for the Fair in August. Tomatoes needed to be bright red, broccoli had to be green with no bugs.
The hot days of July crept onto the farm. Todd and the neighbors' sons, Jay and Gordie, took turns driving the big McCormick tractor to pull the wagon to load the bales of hay. They stacked them carefully so they wouldn't topple on the way from the field to the barn.
Jackie and her dog, Pokey, climbed the load of hay as it got higher and higher. It was fun to ride way up on top.
When the tractor pulled into the yard, Mama was waiting. She reminded her daughter there were weeds in the garden. Mama said if you're going to have a garden as a 4-H project you had to do more than just plant the seeds in May and move the sprinkler in June. Jacquelyn Diane dragged herself to the garage to get a hoe. Their mother didn't believe in a rototiller, she believed in manual labor.
The single row of green beans stretched eighty feet long. The garden was in full sun from sun-up until late afternoon when shade from the maple and elm trees finally cast shadows. She began whacking at the stubborn weeds.
One had to be careful to not hit the plants, Mama would know. As she hoed, and yanked the grasses out by hand, Jackie noticed tomatoes in the next row were getting as big as her fist and some were turning orange. The zucchini plants were two feet tall and covered in big yellow blossoms and little squashes were already three inches long. When she looked among the squash leaves, she pulled weeds there too.
The sweet corn towered over her head. Each stalk had one ear or two. The silk had formed but it wasn't dry yet so the corn wasn't ripe. Mama had already picked swiss chard, radishes, carrots and beets from the long row closest to the yard and the house.
In the lower part of the half acre garden they had planted the eggplant, watermelons and the flowers; beyond those were gourds and indian corn for Jackie to sell at a little stand out front, for dimes.
The first day of the Fair came. The siblings ran to the garden to select what each wanted to arrange in their own box. Jackie put three ears of corn in back with zucchini and summer squash standing up like soldiers. In front she put a purple eggplant on its side on a bed of green beans. Tomatoes and green peppers filled in the empty spaces, with little radishes on top.
At the fair 48 kids had boxes of vegetables to be judged. Mama made the kids go to the dairy barn where she would meet them when the judging of the non-animal projects was finished.
Waiting was hard, but a hot dog and a snowcone helped time go by. When Jackie ran to see her vegetables she jumped up and down! Not only did she have a blue ribbon as one of the best exhibits, she also had a purple ribbon meaning she was picked to go to State Show in another month. She quickly found her family. They were all so proud of her. Todd and Mary had blue ribbons too, but only their little sister had the coveted purple one.
Jackie thought about all the time spent with the hoe and the sprinkler and the seeds. She was thrilled with her accomplishment!
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