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Judging for looks, not taste
By Rachel Wesche
This is very nice. Good fill. Ill bet that tastes good.
Loraine Donivan turns the jar of fruit over in her hands, examines it and reads the label. She sorts mentally through a huge number of criteria whenever she judges canned food, as she did for the open class Wednesday at the Union County Fair.
Among other tests, Donivan checks to make sure the jars and lids are clean, that they are filled to the proper level, that they have a good color and that they have been properly processed in standard containers.
Opening the jars and tasting their contents is a last resort, and then only for fruits, jams, jellies and pickles. Due to the danger of botulism, Donivan never tastes the canned meat or vegetables she judges.
You just cant trust somebody you dont know.
If a jars label indicates that it has not been properly packed and sealed, Donivan makes recommendations to the entrant.
She sees this part of her job increasing safety awareness as one of utmost importance.
Were really trying to educate them and help them improve their skills, she said.
The La Grande woman has been a food judge since 1975. Every year she visits an average of six fairs, including the state fair. This year, she will judge food at the Umatilla County Fair in Hermiston and at the Grant County Fair in John Day after finishing in Union County.
After graduating from college with a degree in home economics, Donivan was an Extension agent before settling down to raise her children.
Judging was a fun way to stay connected to the Extension Service and 4-H and to use my home-ec degree, she said.
Despite her own sterling qualifications, Donivan said, You dont have to have a degree in home-ec to judge.
Anyone with an interest can get into judging. There are a lot of opportunities through the Extension Service to gain education.
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Oregon State University, for example, offers a course in judging food and clothing for fairs, and those who wish may enter into a mentoring partnership with an experienced judge.
Although Donivan gladly judges the open classes, her first love is for 4-H.
Both she and her three children came up through the program, and she spent five years as a foods club leader. She recognizes the impact that 4-H can have on young people.
My involvement in 4-H was why I chose my career, she said.
Im here today primarily because I started out as a 4-Her in the fourth grade.
While the open classes require her only to judge the product, 4-H judging is more all-inclusive and provides many more teaching opportunities.
You get to interact with them find out what they did and how they did it, she said.
It is a process that is as valuable to the children as it is enjoyable for her.
They learn a lot of life skills that way, Donivan said.
Donivan has judged foods, clothing, presentations and style revue for 4-H in the past.
She is judging only food contests at this years Union County Fair, however junior nutritional breakfasts and the Pacific Northwest food contest today; the favorite foods contest on Friday. The fair concludes on Saturday.
Donivan has noticed several changes since she started judging 26 years ago.
She notes primarily that participation in food contests especially has declined.
She also has watched the evolution of the 4-H program throughout the years as it attempts to keep up with the culture and maintain childrens interest.
For her, however, the greatest challenge has been to keep on top of ever-changing food safety standards.
I cant go on what I knew 20 or 30 years ago, she said.
What hasnt changed through the years is Donivans commitment to the fairs she works for.
Ive always enjoyed the involvement, she said.
Fairs are part of the tradition and culture of America. They keep us in touch with the past while looking forward to the future.