Colored Ribbons at the County Fair

Jennifer Terrell, K-State Extension Agent


It’s county fair time and this means that 4-H’ers have the opportunity to showcase all of their hard work learned on projects throughout the 4-H year. For many, this time of year is a highlight of the 4-H program.

Have you ever wondered what the different colored ribbons attached to exhibits mean? Well, I would like to tell you how 4-H exhibits are evaluated at the local county fair.

At the local county fair, most exhibits are judged on a conference or interview basis. This is where the judge interviews the participant as he or she evaluates the product against a set of standards rather than against other exhibits. The purpose of this judging is to determine what the 4-H’er learned while completing the project. Judges may consider skill level based on age and circumstance, and expect a higher performance from older 4-H’ers, so there is some variance within the standard. Comments are generally provided verbally and sometimes written. After the exhibit is evaluated, the judge then awards a ribbon placing to the exhibit.

In 4-H, we use the Danish Ribbon System where exhibits are placed into four different ribbon groups. A purple ribbon means outstanding on all standards, a blue ribbon exceeds the minimum standards but may have some minor flaws where improvements can be made, a red ribbon meets all minimum standards and may have some visible signs of needed improvement and finally a white ribbon fails to meet the minimum standard for the project. Of the purple ribbons, the judge can select a Champion and Reserve Champion.

In 4-H, we believe that using the Danish Ribbon System gives every 4-H member the recognition deserved for the work that was done and encourage them to follow the motto “to make the best better.” While no evaluation system is perfect, this system helps 4-H develop top quality youth instead of focusing on purple ribbon projects.

I encourage you to visit your local county fair and see all of the amazing work 4-H’ers have on display. And as you walk around, pay close attention to the different ribbon placings attached to projects. You will notice there will be any number of purples, blues, reds, or whites in each of the departments. This is the Danish Ribbon System, where 4-H’ers are encouraged to challenge themselves, set goals, and receive constructive criticism. All things to help young people build essential life skills to thrive.

For more information about 4-H Youth Development, reach out to Jennifer Terrell, District Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension – Southwind District at [email protected] or 620-223-3720.

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