This will go down in Minnesota State Fair history as the year crop art cut the mustard.
Yellow mustard seeds are making their final appearance at the fair's crop art competition.
The sturdy round seeds have been a crop art staple; useful for their uniform size, their mellow yellow hue and the way they absorb paint and dyes. Finding a replacement will be a pain in the neck for artists who already have pretty sore necks from all the hours they spent gluing tiny seeds on boards for our amusement.
The crop art community coped with the loss the same way they cope with most things this time of year. By gluing their feelings together with thousands of mustard seeds and submitting them to the crop art competition.
"Mustard's Last Hurrah," read a label made of mustard seeds, on a bottle made of mustard seeds, on a crop art entry by Caitlin Micko. It was her first crop art entry and her last chance to use mustard seeds.
"Who Snitched on Yellow Mustard?" veteran crop artist Brandi Brown posed the question on everyone's mind, pouring her indignation and leftover seeds into a last-minute entry. Mustard seeds featured prominently in her main crop art piece this year — a cautionary tale about doves, open flames and the 1988 Olympics.
"It's a hard, uniform seed. It's a vibrant yellow. It dyes well," Brown said. "Just a terrible seed to lose."
Even worse, it was an unidentified crop artist who snitched on yellow mustard.
Minnesota is the only state fair that hosts a crop art competition and according to the competition's lengthy rule book, all the seeds and plant materials that go into each entry are supposed to come from Minnesota agriculture and horticulture. No weeds. No crops that can't thrive in our climate.
Yellow mustard does not appear to be a Minnesota crop. There are native mustards, which will still be welcome at the fair, but those seeds are black and brown. After a contestant alerted State Fair officials, the decision was made. Minnesota is battling an invasion of noxious garlic mustard and the last thing anyone wanted to do was encourage a non-Minnesota mustard.
"Somebody called my attention to it," said Ron Kelsey, the fair's 83-year-old superintendent of farm crops, who spends most of the year answering detailed questions from crop artists, then spends most of the fair manning a table next to the finished crop art, happily answering questions from the public.
This might not be the end of the road for yellow mustard. Kelsey is investigating reports that it's being grown as a crop in North Dakota and fair officials will discuss yellow mustard's future with the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association.
There are a record 236 entries in this year's crop art display. The Mona Lisa smiles serenely, seedily, out over crowds that line up around the building for a glimpse. There are crop art memorials to the Queen of England and Pee Wee Herman. Orcas built out of glossy beans leap across the display tables, looking for a yacht to smash.
Each entry includes a list of all the materials used. Pumpkin seeds. Amaranth. Wild rice. Yellow mustard.
Teresa Anderson started work on her crop art last fall. It was a large piece, designed to look like a row of stained glass windows, illuminating the four little girls murdered when the Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. Denise. Cynthia. Addie Mae. Carole. The piece included mustard seeds.
Anderson had already put months of work into the piece when the rules changed and she was relieved to hear the ban wouldn't go into effect until 2024. Otherwise, she would have been picking a lot of mustard seeds out of dried glue to avoid disqualification.
Crop art is hard. Any crop artist will tell you that, as they try to clean the glue and quinoa out of their cuticles.
"It wouldn't be so hard to draw or paint a picture, but making it out of seeds — and in some categories tree and plant parts — is really tricky," said Anderson, a prizewinning crop artist who co-runs the CropArt.com website.
"The seeds are limited in their natural colors and vary tremendously in size and shape, so it's a challenge to fulfill one's vision," she added. "But maybe that's why people get hooked on doing it."