Each August, the Northwest Montana Fair showcases the Flathead’s finest — the best livestock, tastiest jams and jellies, largest vegetables and finest crafts.
For many competitors, it’s a chance to see how well grandma’s recipes stack up against the competition, or if their hard work caring for an animal pays off at auction. But then there are folks like Dyson and Jacob Linden, who take the competition to the next level. The Kalispell brothers, ages 13 and 9, respectively, are chasing county fair greatness as they vie for the coveted title of Open Class Exhibitor of the Year.
Page 7 of this year’s fair book lists previous winners — many of them repeat victors — including last year’s hall of famer Sharon Askelson. Each year, just one exhibitor is bestowed the honor for winning the most blue ribbons in at least five different categories.
“I was just looking through the fair book when I noticed there’s an Exhibitor of the Year,” Dyson said. “Two years ago, I tried for it by trying to enter as many as I could. I got 26 [blue ribbons] but that wasn’t enough — somebody else got more. So this year I’m going to try again.”
His brother Jacob is also in the running and between the pair, they’ve entered approximately 100 exhibits this year. They strategized their entries by attacking a different exhibit each week, ranging from quilts to cookies and floriculture to photography.
One of Jacob’s standout entries in a sea-creature inspired quilt, while Dyson is most proud of his intricate origami peacock. In the process of racking up as many entries as possible, they’ve also learned a host of new skills, such as cheese making and baking.
The boys’ mother, Rebecca Linden, said their venture also turned the family’s focus away from the “rides and junk food” side of the fair.
“I’m just delighted that they’ve learned how to can and make cheese and make quilts and all these things,” Rebecca said. “It’s hard to find time and suddenly it’s a little more fun because you can enter it into the fair.”
The brothers have also dubbed certain projects as gifts for each other, with the caveat that they can’t be exchanged until after the fair ribbons have been awarded.
“I want to be recognized and also I think it would just be really fun because then I’d have all these experiences and know for future years how to do all these things,” Dyson said.
In the coming week, judges will award prizes to competitors in 17 different open-class departments. But the Lindens will have to wait in suspense until the fair is over for the Exhibitor of the Year to be decided.
“Last time we entered a lot and it turned out not to be enough, so I’m kinda skeptical, but I hope it will [be enough],” Dyson said.
By mid-afternoon Tuesday a selection of crafts had already been judged and the boys walked through the Expo building to see how their creations had fared. Jacob pointed to a few of his pieces, which were adorned with ribbons in various hues, including blue.
“I don’t really care what the judges say,” Jacob said, “I only care if I like it and if I learn something new.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.