A fifth-grade student, Gabby, her sister, Bailey, in eighth grade, and her brother, Jack, a first grader, have collectively entered around 400 items in the Wilson County Fair this year alone. The Lowes submit so many entries they have to start registering a day early to keep the normal registration line moving on the first day.
How did a group so young learn to compete so big? The Lowes have entered fairs – Wilson County, Lincoln County and Tennessee State – since they were around 3 years old. Encouraged by mother, Cathy Lowe, herself a 4-H and Lincoln County Fair contestant since childhood, the children work year round to churn out new creative work. From painting to pillows to photography – the Lowes try it all. When the year’s work is complete and the items labeled and submitted, they begin again for the next year.
“She just asked me the other day if I wanted to do a craft,” said Gabby of her mother. “I was like, the fair hasn’t started.”
But the drive to compete comes from the children themselves, and working year round makes time for inspiration from vacations and seasonal activities like canning.
“Canning, I mean…it’s fun, but it’s a long process. And it’s a really hot process, too. During the winter, that’s what to do when you’re cold,” said Gabby.
Bailey, whose favorite category is photography, shot her favorite photo this year while visiting family. A portrait of her baby cousin, Neyland, Bailey feels this is her strongest work this year. When asked about how competition has changed for her through her almost ten years of fair experience, Bailey said “I feel like there are a lot more people in my category now…I’m probably more competitive.”
One of Bailey’s biggest rivals is her own sister. The girls are close enough in age to compete in some of the same categories, and compete they do. They have racked up so many purple ribbons they have to keep them in a plastic storage bin. They have even used the ribbons for decorative projects such as the 100th day of school or in decorating hats for the fair.
Not to be outdone, first grader, Jack, entered all available categories for his age group this year, 42 craft categories and four canning. He listed “camouflage, brown, black, gold, yellow, green, white, orange, blue, pink and purple” as the colors that influenced his work. His favorite submission this year was a shoebox guitar with rubber bands as strings.
“In a few more days, I’ll get it back,” he said anxiously, counting down the days until he can play with it again.
Why spend so much time gathering materials for projects and helping the children year after year?
“We’re lucky that Wilson County has a really good fair,” said Cathy Lowe, “It’s fun to go and be a part of that. Having the categories that the kids can enter motivates them to try different projects they wouldn’t normally do…And we also like to go and see all the things other kids have made and other adults. It’s neat to see ideas other people have come up with.”
Not only are the Lowe children learning lessons about competition, they’re learning about saving. They invest their prize earnings into college funds so their hard work will grow to benefit them even more in the future. To children interested in submitting projects to the fair who might be nervous, Gabby Lowe jokingly said, “Don’t do it because we’re going to beat them. They should just not be afraid because I used to be that way…It’s really cool when you get to see your name on there, and everybody’s looking at all these projects.”
The official fair recommendations of these major prize winners? Jack’s favorite ride is the little Ferris wheel because “It’s so little,” while Bailey recommends the Crazy Mouse. Gabby’s food recommendation is a funnel cake, and Bailey likes the walking taco.
Make sure you make it over to the contest booths to see the projects of this hard-working family and the many other talented Wilson County students.