PALMER - As his cabbage teetered on the scale Friday night, Scott Robb added back a small piece of leaf that had fallen off his monster. Even in the world of giant vegetables, where double figures are the norm and triple figures are an achievable dream, every little bit helps.
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But the few grams of extra weight weren't quite enough.
In what qualified as a vegetable version of a barnburner, Steve Hubacek of Wasilla edged Robb by less than 12 ounces to claim the coveted championship in the Alaska State Fair's Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off.
With his entry in the lead at 87.7 pounds, Hubacek hovered near the scale to await the final verdict on Robb's cabbage. The first digital reading showed 87.1, then flashed a little higher before finally settling at an even 87 pounds.
Hubacek raised both arms in victory. Sweat soaked through his red polo shirt, the product not only of a warm, sunny night at the fairgrounds but of a tense showdown between two perennial contenders.
"I've never seen such a close competition," said third-place finisher Seth Dinkel, who is only 14, but as a member of the legendary Dinkel farmers has listened to state fair cabbage fables for as long as he's been alive. "It shows that every little bit helps."
Dinkel's cabbage weighed in at 79.7 pounds, enough to better his cousin Brenna's 73.4-pound winner from last year. But he was 10 pounds short of turning the tense two-man duel into a three-way showdown.
Robb's was the last cabbage weighed, and he looked nervous as first Dinkel and then Hubacek took their entries to the scale. He grinned after Dinkel's was weighed in, but grimaced a little - while graciously applauding - when Hubacek's 87.7-pounder was announced to the standing-room only crowd.
"I was nervous as hell," he said. "It was sitting here in the sun dehydrating."
Despite the drama, which was palpable inside the Farm Exhibits arena, where more than two dozen giant cabbages rested on big sheets of plastic, Barb Everingham's state record of 105.6 pounds remained safe for another year.
Some thought it might take a 90-pounder to win this year. Hubacek said as much to Robb as the two exchanged handshakes, smiles and stories after it was all over Friday.
"When I lifted it out of the hole, I went whoa! This has got some weight," Hubacek told Robb.
As for Robb, who runs Colony Greenhouse in Palmer with his wife, Mardie, he grew a number of contenders this year.
He plants 17 cabbages every spring and seldom needs to weigh more than four or five to determine which cabbage gets a trip to the fair. On Friday morning, he said he would spend his afternoon pre-weighing eight or nine giants to see which was the biggest.
"This is the second biggest I've ever grown," he said. "I'm real tickled."