The Great Minnesota Get-Together—a.k.a. The Greatest Fair on Planet Earth!

Updated: July 2017     Links to State/County Fairs in all 50 States

The Minnesota State Fair is, by all accounts, one of the great Fairs worldwide. With an average attendance of nearly 2 million visitors, it ranks near the top for major expositions in North America and beyond. The spectrum of entertainment and attractions ranges from top-flight musical groups to hundreds of different varieties of flora and fauna (including the amazing renderings of crop art), food in jars, on plates, in bowls, and of course, on sticks. There are games & rides, specialty events/days that highlight various sectors of the State’s economy & heritage, and booths that provide insights on: gardening, art, installing a hot tub, brewing beer, wind power, Spam (a national treasure), and so much more. The fair has something for everyone.

IMG_5628
The famous Grumpy Cat.

Fairs are an important piece of what is known as Americana. Our state, regional, and county fairs, help remind us whence we came—as a society, a country, a rural-agrarian community that placed a high degree of importance on tradition; not simply for the sake of tradition, but because it provided a historical remembrance of how things were done, in the name of survival. And furthermore, it provided the learning that was needed for succeeding generations to improve on the way things had been done traditionally, giving rise to the advances that brought us hitherto.

Chicken-in-a-waffle-cone
Chicken-in-a-Waffle-Cone and Blue Cheese and Corn Fritz

These extravaganzas celebrate all things agricultural; and while every state has one or two products they are known for: (dairy in Wisconsin and New York, wheat in Kansas & North Dakota, swine in Iowa & North Carolina, rye in Georgia & Oklahoma, turkeys in Arkansas & Minnesota, grapes in California & Washington, beef in TexasNebraska, etc., etc.) it is common to see hundreds of different plant and animal varietals at the larger fairs. Agriculture is, of course, every fair’s raison d’être, but these gatherings have often attracted the ladies and gentlemen who are pedaling their wares, ideas, and technological advances that are going to “change the world“, and sometimes do. 2016 attractions include: green energy exhibits; water efficiency, sanitation/filtration, and sustainable management practices; and in Minnesota, the Eco experience.

Jars and Jars of preserved goodies.
Minnesota's finest Maple Syrup specimens
Minnesota’s finest Maple Syrup specimens

Minnesota’s state fair is not the oldest (started in 1859), that Blue Ribbon belongs to New York’s State Fair (1841), nor does it have the largest total attendance (Texas claims that title, however, the Texas shindig runs nearly two weeks longer), but Minnesota does have the largest average daily attendance. “So [its] got that going for [it], which is nice“. Furthermore, the MN State fair has Ye Old Mill, a non-vomit inducing ride that, in 2015, celebrated 100 years of floating Young, Old, and In-between, through the Tunnel of Love.

A short list of more amazing attractions at the Great Minnesota Get-Together includes: The Miracle of Birth Center; a cornucopia of free music and dance offerings; Food—a panoply of fried, non-fried, frozen, and, fluids (beer & wine & milk) for quenching one’s heat & salt induced thirst; Coliseum shows featuring horses, cattle, and dogs; the Northwoods Lumberjack show (drawing Lumberjacks from ArcataFlagstaffLadysmith, Nacogdoches, and Muskegon; the Agriculture/Horticulture building with everything from crop art to craft beer (and maybe the best ice cream in Minnesota (Sonny’s and Pumphouse are in this conversation as well)); Creative activities and animal competitions show off the best needlework, baked & canned goods, poultry, steers, sheep, landscape construction and much more original handiwork (K-12 & Visual Arts) and livestock showmanship (4-H & FFA); and the Midway rides and games (because no carnival is complete without vomit inducing rides and jumbo-sized stuffed-animals.

Somewhere at the Fair: post rain storm, pre-repacked street
Somewhere along Dan Patch Ave

America’s State Fairs are an iconic symbol of our country’s agrarian past, present, and future. Our agricultural landscape has changed immensely in the past 239 years. Technology has allowed for the massive scaling up of farm operations and therefore the massive decline in the number of families engaged in farming. This mechanization was also undertaken in the processing/manufacturing of food. As the size of farms increased, so too did the size of the corporations buying the farmers’ wares. It is basic economic theory in action.

Crop art featuring the McNeely Conservatory in Como Park
Crop art featuring the McNeely Conservatory in Como Park

Economies of scale allow for more efficient use of manpower, physical space & machines, and capital. This production model has been the major contributor to the dwindling number of artisanal producers. However, with the resurgence of restauranteurs, small grocers, and school districts, across the nation, increasingly working with local small and medium size family farms, the artisanal method of handcrafting in small batches is returning. Add to this trend, the growing numbers of millennials who are taking interest in where their food comes from and how it is made and we can see the beginnings of a movement that will in some ways bring us full circle.

The Fair is a chance to interact with the members of our larger community whom we don’t see on a regular basis. Those families who engage in the practice of animal husbandry, horticulture, and agriculture, as well as the artists, vendors, politicians, and performers, who make our lives better by perfecting their craft and rewarding us with the products of their labor.

Get out to your State Fair, wherever you live; and if you want to take a trip to the Greatest Fair on Planet Earth, the airport code is MSP and Southwest just might have a deal.

Sweet Sweet Martha
Sweet Sweet Martha

A few more State/County Fair sites to check out

   Maryland                  South Dakota          Pennsylvania (Allentown Fair)

New Mexico                    Missouri                        Kentucky

      Ohio                          Mississippi                       Oregon

South Carolina           Bangor,Maine                    Arizona

    Florida                         Montana                          Illinois

Tennessee (Valley)           Utah                         New Hampshire

 Rhode Island                Wyoming                        Vermont

  Colorado                      Louisiana                      Connecticut

  Alabama                  Massachusetts                   Michigan

West Virginia        Idaho East & West                  Indiana

   Hawaii                         Alaska                            New Jersey 

  Virginia                     Delaware                             Nevada

Eating to Live and Living to Eat

Ham ‘n’ havarti between pumpkin waffles with butternut squash soup and 3 bean mélange

 

Food, next to oxygen and hydrogen, is the human races’ most important survival need. A great deal of attention is paid to the foods we eat, the foods we try not to eat, the policies that dictate food production, safety standards, and labeling requirements, and the differing agricultural practices used by small family farms, medium size production sites, and large agribusiness facilities. We count calories and fat and protein and fiber, or we don’t; and we often think about eating healthier—and sometimes we do. But at the end of the day, we eat to sustain our existence; and, if we’re lucky, the foods we enjoy not only provide us with the necessary nutrients to preserve life, but also bring us joy through the flavors, colors, and aromas, that envelop each culinary delight.

One of the more recent trends in the food world (really taking off in the past five years) is the return to local sourcing, specifically with farms that engage in organic and sustainable practices. Restaurants featuring regional fare, school districts working with local producers, and increasing numbers of farmers markets, are all proof that people are 1) demanding food and beverage options that originate in their state or region, 2) are produced on farms that use sustainable and organic or biodynamic practices, and 3) are not just talking the environmental (social entrepreneur) talk, but walking the conservationist/land steward walk.

Amongst grocers, Whole Foods has been at the forefront of this movement. They were the first major grocery chain to be certified organic (2003) and they have been promoting natural and sustainable farming practices since they opened in 1980. They implemented an animal welfare rating system to provide consumers with background information about where Whole Foods sources meat and seafood and how the animals were raised/treated.

The grocer’s most recent policy change comes in the form of a rating system for produce and flowers. NPR produced a piece about this on Morning Edition (12 June 2015). Some organic farmers are upset because they don’t agree with the way Whole Foods is grading their farming practices. These farmers believe that being certified organic is in and of itself a very useful, and adequate, measure of how a farm is operating.

Whole Foods, however, didn’t incorporate the new system as another means of showing off their commitment to organic farming practices; rather, this initiative is intended to highlight those operators (organic & conventional) that are being good stewards of the land. Practices that are not included in organic certification, such as “water conservation, energy use in agriculture, farm worker welfare, [and] waste management” are extremely important to the long-term health of rural eco-systems and the people who work the land (Charles, 2015). This appears, from an outsiders perspective (namely mine), to be aimed at conserving our resources, rather than simply ensuring no pesticides were used. Both ideas, organic production and growing in an eco-friendly responsible manner, should be the goal of anyone interested in sustainability.

The issue of conservation and land stewardship is directly related to the interconnected ideas of eating to live & living to eat. When we choose to buy food and drink that is grown and produced locally, using practices that support the welfare of the land and the farmers, we are choosing to invest in our future and our health (and the health of those we cook for). Furthermore, we have to eat, physiologically speaking; so why not support the local/regional economy when possible. And, as an added bonus, we get to indulge in the amazing flavors that are found in the grains (local craft beer), fruits, and vegetables, that don’t require additives and preservatives to stabilize them for their extended shelf life.

Eating to live comes from necessity. Living to eat comes from those food experiences that we didn’t know were possible—until we savored just picked sweet corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes from the garden, or blueberries plucked from a bush. Support your local farmers, brewers et al., and purveyors of all things connected to your extended neighborhood.

Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!
Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!