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Maryland tween’s cake raises thousands for ag education

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Baking a triple coconut cake might seem like an odd choice for 12-year-old Eva O’Hara of Walkersville. She doesn’t even like coconut.

But O’Hara, a seventh grader at Walkersville Middle School, wanted a rich flavor to wow the judges at The Great Frederick Fair’s Cake and Baked Goods Sale, and she knew coconut would do the trick. Her instincts wound up paying off: The end product, which featured coconut milk, coconut extract and coconut shavings, was named this year’s grand champion cake.

Though O’Hara found out about her big win last Saturday night, she thought she had only won the competition’s junior division. It wasn’t until the next day, when she saw two blue ribbons on her cake, that she learned she had won the grand prize.

“I was like, ‘I can’t believe I won!'” she squealed as she remembered that moment, running her fingers through her curly hair in excitement. “I beat the seniors! That is incredible.”

The day’s exhilaration didn’t end there for O’Hara — her award-winning treat was among 134 others sold at this year’s youth cake auction last Sunday evening. As a volunteer from the Frederick County Auctioneers Association rattled off dollar amounts in impossibly quick licks at the front of the South Side Tire and Auto Beef Show Ring, young people paraded their creations around the audience, grinning as the price climbed higher and higher.

Local companies spent big bucks at the fair’s cake sale, often pulling hundreds from their wallets for a single cake or pie. In previous years, the money raised at the sale went toward the county’s 4-H club, which typically hosts the auction, said Karen Nicklas, the fair’s general manager. This year, though, the event’s proceeds will be used to support agricultural education, youth programming and scholarship opportunities offered by the fair, Nicklas said.

The local 4-H club announced its split from The Great Frederick Fair earlier this year, saying it wasn’t able to reach an agreement with fair officials over its participation. However, 4-H and Future Farmers of America members still competed in this year’s cake auction and other events, the fair manager said.

Nicklas knows firsthand how good it feels to win at the fair as a young person — one year, when she was little, her flower arrangement won the fair’s overall competition. She also used to compete in the cake auction. She remembers the time her creation slid in transport, messing up its frosting. Her mom, ever the optimist, assured her that they could repair it. But when they got to the fair, even she had to admit it couldn’t be fixed. Instead, her family ate what was going to be her entry. It was delicious, Nicklas recalled.

“I would’ve given it a blue ribbon, but I didn’t get to judge it,” she said with a laugh.

This year’s cake auction had another twist: 10 percent of each treat’s selling price would be added to the competitor’s premium check.

Last Sunday, O’Hara was hoping to get an extra $1,000, meaning her cake would have to go for $10,000. Mike Kuster, coordinator of youth educational programming at the fair, could only remember one other year a cake went for that much at the auction — in 2007 or 2008, when the Ausherman Family Foundation cracked open its checkbook.

In the end, O’Hara’s masterpiece went for $6,500. A bid from Krietz Auto, located on N. East Street in downtown Frederick, took the cake. In previous years, the auto sales and service shop has put up $5,000 for a carrot cake and $3,700 for a red raspberry white chocolate cake.

“It’s just a great thing to be able to support the kids in agriculture and the future of the agriculture industry with agriculture education,” said Whitney Krietz, the daughter-in-law of Krietz Auto founders Charlie and Kim Krietz.

Before the sale of her daughter’s cake, Erin O’Hara smiled with pride as she recounted Eva’s hard work. She was a “COVID baker,” she explained; during the pandemic, Eva kept the family well fed with batches of bread, muffins, banana bread and other desserts. Having her win this year’s competition was a blessing, Erin said.

And no matter what her cake wound up going for, there’s one thing that wouldn’t change.

“I’m just very proud of myself,” Eva said with a smile.

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