Green thumb earns blue ribbons for Isanti County woman

Pat Johnson has been showing at local fairs for over 25 years

Jeffrey Hage
Princeton Union Eagle

“If you’re going to try and get a ribbon at the fair, you pretty much have to be perfect,” says Pat Johnson. And judging from the wall in the sewing room of Johnson’s Isanti County home, she’s pretty darn perfect.

Johnson has been showing vegetables, herbs, flowers, quilting and sewing projects at the Mille Lacs County Fair for over 25 years. She shows at the Isanti County and Anoka County fairs, too.

Pat Johnson sits on a swing in front of one of her many gardens at her Wyanett Township home. In those gardens Johnson grows the fruits, vegetables and herbs that will earn her more than a few ribbons at local fairs.

Pat Johnson sits on a swing in front of one of her many gardens at her Wyanett Township home. In those gardens Johnson grows the fruits, vegetables and herbs that will earn her more than a few ribbons at local fairs.

Johnson has entered well over 3,000 items in the open class at the Mille Lacs County Fair over the years — and entered 123 items this year alone. You add her Isanti and Anoka entries into the mix, and it’s hard to say how many ribbons she’s won over the years.

But all her Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion ribbons hang on a wall in that sewing room.

“I wrote on the back of each one of them what year I won it, what county it came from and what I won it for,” Johnson said.

And while she doesn’t know how many ribbons she has accumulated, she does know one thing for sure. “I have a lot, and I’m thinking of putting them together as a quilt,” Johnson said.

Johnson grew up on a farm in Crown, about three miles from the farm on which she and husband Keith have now lived for the past 43 years.

She might have a love of competing at the fair in adulthood because she couldn’t join 4-H and show at the fair as a child.

“I would have liked to have been in 4-H,” Johnson said. “But my mother had 10 of us and there was no time.”

“As kids, we had to be out in the field, especially at hay time,” she said.

Johnson might not be out in the field any longer, but for the past 25 years she’s definitely been out in the garden.

Today she has three gardens. Pat sows the seeds, plucks the weeds and reaps in their harvests.

As for Keith? He has the important job of watering the garden.

Pat sells her vegetables, herbs and flowers each Saturday at the farmers market in Cambridge. People come from miles away each week to purchase what is harvested from her gardens.

But this time of year, the farmers market is put on the back burner.

It’s fair time in these parts and Johnson is busy gathering and organizing all the items she’s entering in the area fairs.

Wednesday, Aug. 1, was the day for putting together her onion entry for the Mille Lacs County Fair.

Johnson was busy sorting through red onions, yellow onions and white onions. She was looking at them with an eagle’s eye.

All nine onions were to be entered together. They had to be similar shape and size if Johnson had any hope of winning a ribbon.

“It’s a lot of work. People don’t realize that,” Johnson said.

The care that Johnson put into her onions will be repeated another 122 times before she loads all her goods into her car and drives Wednesday to Princeton.

“Garlic, peppers, dill, cut flowers, embroidery work, beets, cabbage, cucumbers, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, 10 different herbs…”

And the list went on and on as she called off the items she planned on entering at the fair.

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