Are there any events, festivals, or fairs that you make it your business to be at yearly, or at least as frequently as possible?
One such bundle of shenanigans exists that I feel just that way about, and – horror of horrors – it had been three years since my last visit. I righted this wrong on August 26th.
I often try to sell East Coast folks on the amazingness that is the Middle West of America. This is especially true for my home state of Minnesota. All the corn and soybean fields you can dream of? Check. All the lakes you can count, plus 5,000 more (taking a cue from Minnesota’s license plate, labeled as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” …. when there are actually over 15,000) Anyway, all those lakes, many surrounded by cabins and loaded with motorboats and jet skis? Check. The sad-sack Mall of America? Check. The home of Paul Bunyan? That’s debatable – but I say check. Take that, Wisconsin, Maine, and all of Canada.
One of the most amazing things about Minnesota is their two-week festival leading up to Labor Day. The Great Minnesota Get-Together.
The Minnesota State Fair. Check.
The fair is an amazing 320 acres of deep-fried foods on-a-stick that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors yearly. In 2009, an all-time attendance record was set, with 1,790,497 visitors in that sinfully delicious two-week period. This year it was a measly 1,769,872, with my family contributing to 2.26 e-6 of the total visitor numbers. That’s almost the entire population of Maine, folks. That’s meta.
While I won’t talk about the foods we ate here – I’ll reserve that for an especial post of it’s own, coming soon – I will talk about the animals we saw, humans included. Animals are a big deal at fair, perhaps because it’s the only time that city kids and their country bumpkin counterparts bond together peacefully. Growing up a
city suburb kid, it was one of the only times all year that I would get to encounter chickens and ducks, have stand-offs with sheep and cows, and coo over beautiful ponies.
Now that I’m somewhat grown and have milked goats and babysat sheep, as well as continued to coo over beautiful ponies, I appreciate the visibility of animals at the fair to other urban and suburban kids such as myself, giving them the same chance I had to become fascinated with creatures wild and tamed – outside of a James Herriot book.
The fair plays host to rabbits, geese, a whole pond of native fish (props to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources), and one big pig (above, center left). Each year, a new boar is crowned as head big pig. During his tenure, he gets to lay around, hot and bothered-like, looking and feeling fat. This year’s champ was a wee bit over 1,400 pounds, and what a looker.
The fair’s definition of animals is widely encompassing. In addition to the cuddly, at-times dangerously heavy barn animals that we all know and love, the fair also includes a section of mechanical animals. Trucks, trailers, farm equipment odds and ends, and Stihl chainsaws are all sold at the fair. Not in the traditional sense, per se: you won’t see a Ford F-150 being driven off the lot by a pot-bellied old man, struggling to navigate streets clogged with the fair’s other animals – humans. All of these products are on-site, and are promoted by their eager employees. I see how the idea works, I do. Spending a day eating, walking, eating, sitting, eating, looking at trucks, eating, and after food coma recovery, all positive memories of the endless fried foods reinforce the desire to buy that beefy truck prominently displayed at the fair’s north end, up on Machinery Hill.
More on those human-variety animals.
One of the most curious attractions at the Minnesota State Fair (not the big pants – they no longer exist, or the giant slide, or the biggest pumpkin, or the big two-wheeled ferris wheel that brought me to tears while riding it this year) is the butter heads. Located in the Dairy building that now houses many things strikingly non-dairy, the butter heads are the work of artisan buttercrafter Linda Christensen, a graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design who has carved 451 heads of butter over the past 40 years.
12 finalists in the Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition, a goodwill pageant for ladies from dairy families across the state, are memorialized in 90-lb blocks of butter, carved live and in person, as they grin and wave from beneath their hefty parkas in a rotating glass-walled refrigerator. One of the lucky ladies is crowned as Princess Kay; the current princess’ butter head (that of Mary Zahurones) is shown near the top of the page, while the butter head being sculpted in the following photos is that of finalist Kelsey Sellner.
The butter heads are a pretty big deal at the fair. However, if neither butter nor cheese interest you, worry not. You can head straight for the meat judging. Live…. or dead.
Coming up soon: from walleye cakes to cream cheese-stuffed fried pickles, we feasted like kings at the fair this year. Upon returning home, our food coma prompted us to make a list of everything we ate, and everything we’d like to eat on our next visit. And no, we sadly didn’t feel the need to purchase an F-150.
Minnesota State Fairgrounds
1265 Snelling Ave N
St Paul, MN 55108
Twelve days of fun ending Labor Day – Next year’s dates:
August 23rd through September 3rd, 2012
6h00 – 24h00 (22h00 on Labor Day)