By Ross Markman
Highlighted by a car show, health fair and of course seed judging, the Montana Seed Show kicks off with an ag products contest Thursday morning at Harlem High School.
What began as a potato show 53 years ago, the annual seed show has grown to include seeds for crops like wheat, canola and barley roughly 50 to 60 samples of which will be judged in this year's competition, according to Dick Calvert, the seed show's chairman.
"It hasn't always been like this. It used to feature potatoes, but it's escalated since then," said Calvert, in his ninth year as chairman or co-chairman of the annual event.
Calvert first participated in 1992, a year after the seed show took a one-year hiatus.
"I didn't get involved in it earlier. In 1991, they didn't have a show," he said. "Then I got involved after they started again. I just figured I would have time to do it. I think it is something good for the community. It gives them something to look forward to."
Contestants in the car, fleece and seed competitions also have something to look forward to cash prizes.
In addition to awarding 26 rosette ribbons to winners in each category, Montana Seed Show Inc., the nonprofit group that coordinates the event, gives each grand champion $50.
Overall, the group spends between $10,000 and $12,000 each year on the seed show, Calvert said.
Though it typically runs smoothly, Calvert said, the seed show is not a simple task. Only about a dozen people coordinate the three-day exhibition each year, he said.
"It gets harder each year to keep going. A lot of the people don't want to be involved anymore," he said. "It's a lot of work for 10 or 12 people. But we get it done."
Calvert estimated about 400 people will attend this year's show, which also features a chili cook-off Thursday night.
The following day Harlem High School will host commercial booths representing businesses from Billings, Malta, Jordan and Havre.
Friday also marks the first day of the health fair perhaps one of the biggest draws to the seed show, Calvert said. For $20 to $40, people can take a blood test and be examined for osteoporosis.
The weekend brings a car and antique tractor show. The car show, along with a quilt exhibition, costs 50 cents to attend.
Calvert, meanwhile, simply hopes for a good attendance and a smooth-running seed show
"This is a chance to visit with old friends and neighbors," he said. "It's just sort of a spring get-together. A lot of people say it marks the beginning of spring."