There's only one slight problem with the huge purple ribbon signifying the Grand Champion Sweepstakes winner in a certain Western Washington Fair exhibit — it covers up a...

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PUYALLUP — There’s only one slight problem with the huge purple ribbon signifying the Grand Champion Sweepstakes winner in a certain Western Washington Fair exhibit — it covers up a bit of the winning display, every inch of it just as grand as the ribbon implies.

The prize adorns the elaborate design created from the harvest of farm and garden and entered by the Waller Road Grange in the produce-arrangement competition at the fair.

It’s one of 11 such displays entered this year in an annual agricultural exhibit of enduring popularity. A favorite at the fair for decades, it’s one that some fairgoers say they never miss — and that creators spend hundreds of hours putting together.

In the Waller Road entry, a “windmill” with moving arms, plus a background area, are formed from a myriad of colorful and carefully arranged produce: yellow bell peppers, purple grapes, tiny white onions, little orange carrots, green beans, golden corn, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, deep-red Liberty apples, yellow raspberries, nectarines, chestnuts, brown eggs and more, along with jars of home-canned goods.

Other arrangements, all entered by area Grange chapters, feature assorted themes, each executed with perfectly aligned fruits and vegetables and special additions, such as an old plow in the Gig Harbor Grange entry.

Why are so many visitors drawn, year after year, to these homey displays?

“Well, it’s food,” fairgoer Mary Thurman of Olympia said as she admired the designs.

“And they make art out of it,” said another admirer, Leigh Dunlap of Tacoma.

And something more, added Thurman: “It ties back to what Grandma and Grandpa used to do” as farmers or home gardeners, whose bountiful tables reflected what they grew or “put up” for the winter.

Creating the displays is no small task.

“This is a huge project for us. I would estimate we have well over 1,000 hours in this,” said Del Waller, who chairs the display effort for the Waller Road Grange, which is located west of Puyallup.

Months before the fair, Grange members begin discussing display ideas and drawing plans, he said. As the fair approaches, preparations crank into high gear.

Member Anna Vanhulle gathers produce for the Waller Road display. She starts collecting items about two weeks before the fair, much of the produce coming from Grange members or their friends who are farmers or home gardeners.

Some also comes from the Grange’s own garden, part of it planted by children from Waller Road Elementary School. When the fair opens, the kids get the thrill of seeing the produce they grew on display.

Vanhulle also visits other local farms and supplements what she finds with supermarket purchases.

Uniform color, size and shape are a must for items in the display.

“We usually go through six to eight dozen brown eggs to get a dozen that are the same size and shade of brown,” said Waller.

Plywood with metal dividers forms the base for the design, with the fruits and vegetables sitting in peat moss. Whole families of Grange members help put the displays together in the fair’s Agricultural Building, where good-natured competition and camaraderie prevail among Granges as the designs are assembled, said Waller.

This year’s 11 produce-arrangement displays are part of a steady decline in entries over the years, said Gordon Ekuan, superintendent of the fair’s agricultural exhibit.

There are fewer farms in Western Washington than there once were, and membership in the Grange — begun as a farmer organization — is widely in decline, he said. (The Waller Road Grange is thriving, Waller said, because it has become more of a community organization than a farm group.)

Yet even as produce-design entries decrease, their popularity with fairgoers remains high, said Ekuan.

Begun as a celebration of farming and its harvest, the Western Washington Fair is “one of the few fairs in the country that have a display like this,” Ekuan said. “The fair puts a lot of emphasis on this.”

The fair continues through Sunday.