Growing up in Washington State, going to the state fair, or “doing the Puyallup” as we fondly said, meant doing the rides, checking out some of the cute animals, and getting a corn dog & other treats. When I got a little older, I grew fonder of the jelly-filled hot scones that seemed to be the reason the adults kept coming back.
Although I’ve since moved to Minnesota, I’m still in a state that boasts one of the country’s largest state fairs. I’ve been ambivalent about it, due in part to an aversion to crowds and lack of shade. I’d go if I were campaigning for political candidate, to enjoy some rare hours with a friend who also likes going to the fair, or if given an incentive by an employer. I’ve never said, in the fall, as the opening day approaches, “I will go to the fair this year.”
This year, however, a ticket was given to me, and as it was attached to the entry to an early-morning 5k race, it got me onto the fairgrounds while the crowds were still thin. Some of the barns and buildings weren’t even open by time we finished the race. There were enough bustle and fried-food smells it was sufficiently festive, but the air was still cool and I had room to get to what I wanted to see.
What did I want to see? I figured this out as I went: the schedule and map were overwhelming, so for the most part, I followed my nose and eyes, armed with a few tips from friends. One friend told me that she always goes to the Fine Arts building, and while that was on my agenda, there were so many interesting things that I encountered on the way that the FA building visit never happened.
My first stop was the Creative Activities building. I saw it on the map and wanted an answer to: “If it didn’t have fine arts in it, what did it have?” Quilts, knitting, pickling, baking: the gamut. This was a healthy taste of the creative handiwork being done today by adults in Minnesota (the 4H building covered the kids’ handiwork).
I started shooting pictures when I realized how much making is going on in this state. I’d figured to use the camera to document what people normally say about the fair: “it’s great people-watching.” But I ended up documenting my own huge a-ha moment. We are blessed here with riches, talents, and inspired, hard-working people.
This revelation reminded me of my visit to the Florence duomo/cathedral, in my twenties. I’d seen several amazing churches and monuments when I was even younger, and been duly impressed with the grandeur. However, seeing the duomo when I was older, and after I’d learned a little more about people, faith and cities, made it so much more impressive. Money funded these projects, but faith and sweat made them happen.
Now motivated by my own ignorance and new appreciation for Minnesota, I kept eating it up. This was long before I actually started eating, which is notable for this fair. Local TV anchors first report on the newest on-a-stick fair delicacy, then about their own appearances on the grounds, then finally about the musical acts lined up for the Grandstand.
I worked my way through the Eco Experience, Agriculture, 4H, Sheep, and Poultry buildings. I saw displays about the latest recycling technology and alternative energy sources, better transit options, native horticulture, beer, honey, flowers, grain, apples, grapes, painting, sewing, educational, woodworking projects by 4-H kids. Finally, I was surrounded by overlapping layers of baa’s, clucks, cooing and bunny-nose twitches, rather than the earlier layers of “I had cheese curds for breakfast” and “today’s calories are free.” I saw some really big roosters and some very social sheep.
Out of curiosity, I was keeping an eye on the signs of the various food booths as I progressed, to get a look at the variety and weirdness: hot dish on a stick and deep fried candy bars were about as exotic as I saw. I was tempted by the giant pickles on sticks, but that seemed pointless, even if perhaps on of the few ways to get a vegetable into your fair diet. Thankfully, the short but difficult race early that morning kept my appetite in check. As tasty as cheese curds are, I won’t eat them unless I can share them, and I was alone for the morning. What I ate:
- One coffee
- A SPAM breakfast sandwich
- Most of a rhubarb-strawberry malt
- A pork chop on a stick
My body still remembers what it felt like after the fair, when I was a kid. Corn dogs, cotton candy, soda pop and elephant ears, oh my! Whew: upset stomach, averted.
Will I go back next year? Maybe. Can I enter something in a baking contest?!