Destination USA: Minnesota State Fair

Gallery of Minnesota State Fair Highlights

Minnesota State Fair

By TurtlesTravel

A photo collection from a weekend at the Minnesota State Fair 2014

  • Fair Rides

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  • State Fair Taffy

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  • Corn Roast Workers

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  • Fried Fruit on a Stick

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  • Giant Slide

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  • Equine Barn

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  • Deep Fried Twinkies

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  • Martha's Cookies

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  • The Corn Roast

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  • Double Bacon Corn Dogs

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Memories of the Fair

I have wonderful memories of Cape Cod’s Barnstable County Fair, an annual event dating back to 1844! We’d eat fried dough and cotton candy, ride the rides ’til we were dizzy and watch my sister participate in the horse shows. On really special years, we got to visit to The Big “E,” in western Massachusetts. The Big “E” brings together the six New England States: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. I loved to buy maple candy in the Vermont building, and try my luck at the ring toss and throwing darts at balloons or squirting water into the clown’s mouth for a chance at winning a huge stuffed animal.

Agricultural Roots

Fairs and festivals are fascinating snapshots of society. Most state fairs in the US have agricultural roots. People came together around the finest livestock, new farming methods, and industrial and commercial innovations. Fairs have always included competitions like cow milking, pulling, best of breed, horse shows, awards for the largest or most beautiful vegetables or fruits, baking and cooking contests. (TIME has a slideshow with some wonderful historical photos!) Over the years, exhibitors expanded to include handicrafts, art and business demonstrations. On the entertainment front, the midway always includes classic rides like the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, new high-intensity rides, and games of chance and skill. At the fair you can also satisfy a taste for the bizarre with “freak shows” and spectacles designed to thrill and amaze. There are concerts and performances to enjoy on stages and grandstands as well.

We’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of state fairs in our travels as mobile marketing tour managers. These long, multiple days at the fair have given us a unique perspective. We’ve seen the famous Butter Cow at the Ohio State Fair, and taken part in local dancing in the shadow of Big Tex at the Texas State Fair. We’ve attended the Minnesota State Fair not once but twice! This one was hectic, but we still made time to walk around and take in the sights. This year the fair had the highest attendance in its 150 year history, with the last Saturday seeing over 252,000 people. Total attendance over the 12 days of the fair came in at 1,824,830!

Minnesota State Fair History

The Minnesota State Fair is one of the country’s largest and most well-known. The first was held in 1859. Like most state fairs, the early focus was on agricultural exhibits and competitions. The horse barn dates back to the 1930s, and was built through a program that offered people jobs during the Great Depression. I caught the tail end (pun intended) of the last horse show, as cowgirls walked their steeds back to their stalls. I still haven’t realized my dream of seeing an animal born in the Miracle of Birth center, where almost 200 calves, lambs, goats and piglets are born during the fair. Among other historic spots, the Space Tower, built in 1965, was modeled after Seattle’s Space Needle. There are panoramic views of the whole fairgrounds from the top. There are more great views from the Skyglider, a more recent addition in 2001. Of course, the aspect of fair history we were most interested in is food at the fair!

The workers at the Corn Roast.  What a production.

The workers at the Corn Roast. What a production.

Fair Food

In the early days of the fair, you had to bring your own food, like a picnic. Later, church groups began preparing foods and bringing them for sit-down meals for the congregation and others. The tradition lives on. This year, we saw the Hamline Church Dining Hall, feeding hungry fairgoers since 1887, serving up everything from biscuits and gravy for breakfast, burgers and sandwiches for lunch and dinner to Jello salad ice cream in flavors like Church Elder “Berry.” Over time, eating became a main fair focus. Each year people anxiously await the announcement of new fair foods for the current year.

Food on a stick is always highlighted at the Minnesota State Fair, and you can find everything from pie on a stick to fried pickles or lobster on a stick. Deep-fried items are also hot. There are classics like deep-fried Oreos and candy bars and newcomers like this year’s “Deep-Fried Breakfast on a Stick,” described as “American and Swiss cheeses, a sausage patty, one egg and Canadian bacon all sandwiched between two pancakes, then dipped in a light, sweet batter and deep-fried on-a-stick.”

Our favorites this year included PB&J French Toast, a breakfast cichetti of sausage and egg in a bread cone, roasted corn, various skewers and beer gelato! The roasted corn stand was an attraction by itself. There were literally dozens of young people shucking, cooking, roasting, and serving. First you buy a ticket, then make your way up to the Corn Roast counters to get your treat. The corn was fresh and delicious, buttery, salty and satisfying. Another fair favorite is Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar. These chocolate chip delights are sold for $15 for an overflowing bucket. Everything is made onsite, and served fresh and hot out of the oven. Martha’s is said to gross over $2.4 million during the 12 days of the fair, more than any other vendor. About a million cookies are sold each day of the Minnesota State Fair!

About the author

Tamara and Donny have wandered together since 2004, with no cure for their insatiable wanderlust. They write about discovering new destinations including beautiful photography, plus budget travel tips and how to give back through travel.