Yey! I can check something off my bucket list – I have been to the Minnesota State Fair (tagline The Great Minnesota Get Together). Twice. And I love it! I can’t wait to visit again, perhaps one more time before the fair ends this year, and certainly in the coming years when I do get a chance to be here in Minnesota around the end of August.
My husband can’t stop telling everyone, “You know you married a good woman when you take her to the Fair and she actually enjoys it.” I seriously did.
My Fair experience begins with getting there. The Minnesota State Fair has organized a free Park and Ride scheme. Now, the Park and Ride concept is nothing new, except that this is 100% FREE. Fair-goers can park their cars in 35 different locations about 10-15 minutes away from the Fairgrounds and then they board a bus that takes them right to the entrance. They can take the same buses back to where they parked afterwards. Now if you insist on bringing your own car, parking on the Fairgrounds costs $12, and I’ve seen enterprising homeowners near the Fair entrance convert their front lawns into $10-20 parking spots. But why spend even a dollar when you can get there for free? The more I think about it, the more this scheme makes sense — I am in a good mood as I head off to the Fair because I don’t have to deal with any parking hassles and I don’t have to spend a single dollar (yet) so I just might buy an extra treat when I get there, and at the same time, the Fair is able to attract more people to come (without causing as bad a traffic congestion), upholding its reputation as the largest state fair in the US in terms of daily attendance.
On my first visit, we went late in the afternoon. We didn’t expect to stay long as I just arrived in the US and supposed that jet-lag would make me feel tired by early evening. We ended up staying till 9:30 p.m. — the Fair was that stimulating! I overheard someone say that she has been to the Fair ever since it started — that’s three days in a row! I could see how you would need several visits to explore all the Fair attractions.
The Fair was everything I expected and much more. I knew that historically, state fairs were largely agricultural events where farmers get to showcase the best of their crops and livestock and vie for prestigious blue ribbons. At the Minnesota State Fair, there were large barns for the different farm animals and great halls that exhibit exceptional produce. It was my first time to see beautiful horses of mythical proportions, sheep being sheared, and cows being milked. Oh about cows, the Holstein variety, the black and white kind that I thought only existed in illustrations in children’s books, are particularly charming. The Minnesota State Fair boasts of a Miracle of Birth Center where visitors can witness the birth of calves, lambs, and piglets. I got to see gigantic prize-winning pumpkins, zucchinis, and cabbages. I’m not sure they would be any good for eating but they were certainly impressive. I can see how the Fair generates excitement and enthusiasm for agriculture not only amongst farmers but especially for the younger generation for whom this can be an enriching educational experience. I can only hope that there would be similar events in the Philippines to encourage farming.
The Fair has since expanded to include other exhibits, contests and attractions. I really enjoyed the butter sculptures at the Dairy Barn. We were able to see the artist at work in a walk-in, all-glass revolving refrigerator. She was carving out a head sculpture from a 90 pound block of Grade A butter. The model, a finalist for the Princess Kay of the Milky Way, sat before her wearing thick winter clothes. I share my sister-in-law’s sentiments when she said that this is her kind of pageant. None of the finalists look like they might faint from starvation — they are all healthy and beautiful farm girls. The Princess Kay of the Milky Way wins a college scholarship and serves as the official goodwill ambassador for the Minnesota dairy industry.
The other exhibits that we enjoyed were the Eco Experience which was like an interactive science museum, the Creative Activities Department where blue ribbon winning handcrafts and baked goods are displayed (I especially loved the dioramas), and the 4-H building where we saw a lot of cool stuff that young people are working on such as aquatic robots. On our second visit, we sat out on the grass for the all-American festive experience — the parade! It was a lot of fun to be part of the cheering crowd and to watch Ruby having a ball waving at the mascots.
Fair food is a major part of the whole Fair experience. My sister-in-law says this is the only time when she eats stuff that she would never eat the rest of the year. I wouldn’t say that Fair food is exactly for food aficionados whose tastes may be more refined than what’s offered. There’s your usual amusement park fare such as popcorn, cotton candy, wieners, taffy, french fries, and corn on the cob, but there’s so much more than that. I would classify most of the Fair food into the following (and it’s possible they overlap):
- Deep fried (Ex., deep fried Spam, deep fried pickles, deep fried potato skins, deep fried cheese curds)
- On-a-stick (Ex., grilled pork chop on-a-stick, cheesecake dipped in chocolate on-a-stick, deep fried fruits on-a-stick, Scotch eggs on-a-stick)
- “Dare food” or “Try at your own risk” (Ex., fried alligator on-a-stick, bacon ice cream, deep fried Twinkies, teriyaki ostrich on-a-stick)
- Sweet tooth (Ex. gummy bear on-a-stick, funnel cakes, honey ice cream, buckets of chocolate chip cookies, malts, caramel apples on-a-stick, mini donuts)
I have heard rumors about deep fried butter on-a-stick but haven’t actually seen it on the Fair grounds. Just the thought of that makes my arteries tighten! Much as I admit that Fair food is not exactly the healthiest, I would definitely go back to have the grilled pork chops and the raspberry malt at the Dairy Barn. I find that the best strategy to enjoy Fair food is to share it with someone so you only feel half (or one-third, or one-fourth) as guilty, plus it leaves you with more stomach space to try a wider variety of things. I’m mildly surprised to see siblings each with their own plate of funnel cake, or a group of friends each holding their own tray of deep fried cheese curds, or couples with a big bucket of chocolate chip cookies each. Then again, my American husband only learned to appreciate the joys of sharing food when he married me. 😛
There’s still much left to see and do and so little time. We just might go back this Saturday morning, have our arms stamped so we can go back in the evening when the band Journey plays at the Grandstand and do the “Chinese thing” of sitting outside the Grandstand to listen to the music for free and watch the fireworks afterwards. That sounds like a good plan to me.