Ray Martin baked his first Grand Champion cake three years ago, a coconut confection that raised $2,500 in the annual 4-H Cake Auction at the Great Frederick Fair.
This year, his Grand Champion carrot cake went for twice as much — a whopping $5,000. The winning bid was placed by the Krietz family, of Krietz Auto Repair and Sales on East Street, who has won the Grand Champion cake for the last three years in a row.
“We were going to take this cake one way or another,” said Kim Krietz, a Frederick resident whose children raised beef cattle through the 4-H program. “It’s easier to do it all in one swoop than it is to buy 20 different cakes.”
There were a grand total of 200 cakes, pies and other baked goods at the 2016 Cake Auction on Sunday, which covered seven picnic tables pushed together end to end. The auction raised $35,685 this year, compared with the $40,565 raised in 2015.
Proceeds from the auction go directly to Frederick County 4-H programs, usually to send members on trips to 4-H competitions in other states.
Martin, for example, plans to attend the Kentucky Livestock Skillathon in early 2017, where he’ll compete against other 4-H members to identify livestock breeds and rank various cuts of meat for quality, among other tests.
A modest 17-year-old from Creagerstown, Martin said he uses his livestock knowledge every day on his grandparents’ farm. But he’s also competed in the baked goods competition for the past eight years, honing his kitchen skills with the help of his grandmother.
“It’s something we’ve done together for years,” Martin said. “It just brings us closer.”
The Grand Champion cake almost always fetches the highest bid at the auction, but even the smaller-ticket items can sell for over $100. This year, bidding for most blue-ribbon cakes started at $200, and the Grand Champion Pie — peach, baked by Justin McAfee, of the Rocky Ridge 4-H Club — went for $1,500.
Last year’s Grand Champion cake fetched $6,500, while the Grand Champion pie sold for $1,450.
Most bidders choose to compete out of loyalty to their local 4-H programs, rather than a love for one particular sweet.
“It’s not so much this particular cake, it’s that all the money goes back to 4-H,” said Krietz. “I think it builds very strong life skills in all the kids who participate.”
Randy and Karen Sowers, the owners of South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, feel the same way. The couple first met at the Great Frederick Fair in the 1970s, showing beef cows through the 4-H program. Since then, their children and grandchildren have participated in 4-H, and they generally budget $500 to $600 every year to spend at the cake auction.
“We usually wait for stuff that isn’t going well and try to drive up the price,” Randy said.
“He likes coconut, and we want a black raspberry pie,” Karen said. “But really, we’re just supporting 4-H and our roots.”