Niagara exhibitors vying for top places as Royal Agriculture Fair goes virtual

·3 min read

Not only will this year be Amanda Skelding’s first as an exhibitor in the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, it’ll also be her first time experiencing it virtually.

Skelding, who is the bee queen of From My Bees in Niagara Falls, submitted honey into three pro-level categories for this year’s Royal Fair food competitions. She's up against 60 other entries.

Her bee’s white and amber liquid honey, along with comb honey, was shipped off this past September and has already gone before three judges who've scored the honey against criteria ranging from moisture content to appearance.

But, like everyone else, she’ll have to wait to find out just how sweet the judges were feeling.

“I’m really excited to see where we stand,” Skelding said.

Typically bringing in 300,000 people across 10 days in Toronto, this year the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair kicks off from behind the screen on Nov. 10 under a new name — The Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience — and runs until Nov. 14.

“Early on we made the decision not to try to replicate the experience of attending the physical fair at Exhibition Place,” Royal CEO Charles Johnstone said.

Earlier in the year when COVID-19 became a reality, Royal organizers looked at what components of the fair would translate well onto a virtual platform.

“This is a fully interactive, immersive experience that people will have,” Johnstone said.

Free registration to experience live and on-demand content in ten categories, covering everything from urban farming to food competitions, is now open online.

Other exhibitors, like Kim McQuhae, are no stranger to the fair. Her first entry was at least 14 years ago. But of course, this year will be different.

McQuhae is an industrial communications and cable technician by day, server by night, and a jam and jelly mixologist in between, at her farm, Gryphon Ridge Highlands, in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

This year, she’s entered 19 different jams and jellies into pro competition categories against another 65 entries, all evaluated by 16 judges.

Last year, her blackcurrant raspberry jam won first place in one category, and her mango lychee jelly took first in another.

Each year she comes up with something new.

Her first champion creation, in 2007, was a recipe she said she dreamt about one night — a lime, ginger and water chestnut marmalade.

“It’s a very strange world up in my head,” she quipped.

This year she’s excited to find out how her amaretto, orange and almond marmalade will do.

If the local exhibitors come out ahead in the competitions, they'll be featured in the virtual Champion's Showcase booth and announced in competition videos. Though products cannot be purchased, McQuhae has a Facebook page, and Skelter will take order inquiries by email.

Skelter, who has kept bees for the past decade, said it would be hard not being able to interact with people who are normally interested in talking about what she does.

Though at the end of this year's Royal, it'll all come down to the honey for Skelter.

“I know the flavour is going to out-compete everybody — so I guess we’ll just have to see,” she said.

For more information and to register visit https://royalfair.vfairs.com/en/.

Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week