The Future of Vegetable Competitions - David Thornton FNVS

I am concerned about the future of amateur vegetable competitions, such as those organised by the Derbyshire Horticultural Association (DHA) and numerous other organisations throughout the country.
My personal involvement, both as an exhibitor and to a lesser extent as an organiser over the past 15 years, suggests the following emerging trends: 
The numbers of shows and exhibitors are diminishing as is the number of vegetable classes at shows,
despite the fact that vegetables are now featured more heavily in the media than at any other time in
modern history.
We currently have a male dominated, aging group of hard core national circuit exhibitors.
This elite group tends to exhibit in the same classes at every major show, possibly to the detriment of
potential newcomers.
Those exhibitors who are prepared to invest the most in their equipment, time and other resources
tend to be most successful.
New exhibitors should be given more encouragement at shows and the DHA should do more for this
important future stakeholder group.
Show schedules, judging criteria and pointing systems, levels of prize money and other methods of
reward haven’t changed much in years at many shows held throughout the country.
Showing is perhaps now viewed by some sectors of our population as being old-fashioned
(traditional), a quirky country pursuit, which is practised by slightly strange people! But historically
it was organised by the larger employers in towns, which around where I live used to be the Derby
railway works, the miners welfares, the breweries, working men’s clubs and Rolls-Royce. Few of
these still exist in their original forms. 
I’m certain not everyone will agree with all of these points, but one objective of this article is to encourage debate on this subject through our website.
The other point of the article is to try and determine what strategy we can employ to get more people showing.
I joined the DHA specifically because I enjoyed showing vegetables and I wanted to get more involved and learn how to do it more successfully.
So what about the future of vegetable competitions in this current era of financial crises, high fuel costs and increasing numbers of dis-interested people?
Maybe the DHA and other organisations, such as the RHS, should do some research on this subject, by asking visitors to the shows and exhibitors for their views on the future of vegetable competitions.
But I am sure we could predict some of the answers because we have heard them before. Here are a few examples: not enough time, too busy, not really interested, I only grow for the kitchen, my vegetables get destroyed by pests and diseases and the same bloke wins every year at the local show!
I think we have to find an alternative way of getting more people showing that doesn’t involve them investing any extra time and money than what they do already, in order to sustain the future of vegetable competitions.
One way might be to use new technology, such as a digital camera (or iphone 3G) and the internet and we explore the concept of a “virtual vegetable show”, which would potentially have a worldwide competitor pool.
The DHA could devise the class descriptions and timing, define what images are required ie picture angles and cross-sections and size scale, host and judge the competition and of course think of some way of the exhibitor providing proof of ownership.
What do you think?
Perhaps this new approach is too radical and should be run alongside the current traditional style of competitions, as it certainly wouldn’t appeal to everyone.
However, my own piece of market research indicates that our 13 year old daughter is interested and in my book that’s a pretty fresh start!
I must stress these are my own views and not those of any DHA or other committees on which I sit.

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