The Cassia Life

Being Fair About the State Fair

The Cassia Life
By Jesse Watkins, Cassia’s own resident blogger

How could any Minnesotan, Iowan, Dakotan, etc. put down their own State Fair? Here in Minnesota and certainly in Iowa, the fairs are established institutions with long-term positive images. Millions attend. Say something aloud like, “The fair? Why waste my time? ” and you’d be seen as a sourpuss at best, or as just plain snooty.

In recent years, until my conversion this season, I snubbed the Minnesota State Fair simply by not attending. It continued for several years. Before that, while a rural/farming atmosphere still existed at the fair, I attended regularly–toured machinery hill, checked out the pig and dairy cattle barns, talked with farmers, had a free glass of milk at the dairy exhibit. During those years, ag journalism was my line of work.

But then came retirement and a gradual shift at the fairgrounds from ag to urban. Add the fact that I’d become an upper age senior and the dimensions of the fairgrounds appeared to call for miles of walking. I wondered as well what actually would be available at the fair for seniors to see and do.  Chatting about the fair this afternoon in the Augustana exercise room with fellow resident Judy Rudolph, she remarked, “What happened to the farming emphasis the fair had when it was located out state?” I miss it, too.

So I was about to non-attend the fair again when a friend suggested I join the Augustana Apartments bus group and open myself to what could be seen, heard and enjoyed at the fair.  We boarded the bus at 8:30 on a beautiful Minnesota late-summer morning, encountered minimum traffic, and soon entered the grounds through fair gate 18 on the north side.  The veteran discount welcomed me in at $10.

Asking just once where to find it, we soon had hot coffee in hand. Strolling east on Randall Avenue, we then turned south onto Cosgrove, encountering no crowd at all.  Our planned destination was the Fine Arts Center where we lingered for about an hour of our planned four hour stay at the fair.  The time was well spent; there were at least a thousand fine arts entrees, most of them flat art framed and ready for hanging.  We ventured on south on Cosgrove and entered briefly the Education Building where we noted the AARP exhibit.

As we strolled along, I recalled that some years ago at the Iowa State fair, due to a power outage, the butter cow (annual full size cow molded of butter) began to melt. Near panic ensued.

Opportunities occurred to visit with two out-state Minnesotans about any inclination they might have to favor big-city entertainment over home-town events. Both said local events get equal treatment from them.  Steve Johnson of Buffalo said even though he has attended the State Fair many years consecutively, the same is true about faithfully attending his own Wright County Fair. 

Tom Helch, visiting the fair from his small Minnesota home town of Ottertail, said there are many quality entertainment events to attend in his region without driving to the metro. The country music festival at Detroit Lakes is an example, he noted.
In a follow up phone call with the fair’s media spokesperson, Danielle Dullinger, we learned  that the logical next visit for us on Cosgrove Street, had time allowed, would have been the Creative Activities building where 8,000 entrees were received.

After a quick lunch, as we boarded our bus to return to Augustana, I felt determined to plan ahead to return to the fair next year.  I hope to learn in advance about senior-friendly exhibits and events. Media supervisor Dullinger recommended the Ramberg Music Café.  “The food is good and the live music pleases seniors,” she said.

She also provided surprising fair history information.  The Minnesota State Fair was first held in 1859 in the area that later became downtown Minneapolis. The year 1859 was two years before the start of the 1861-1865 Civil War. The fair was held in various small cities in Minnesota until 1885 when it was awarded 210 acres of land by the Ramsey County Board. Acreage was later added to bring the fairgrounds to its present size of 320 acres, a one-half square mile.

About one third of fairgoers are seniors.  Aged 65 and up accounts for 12.5% while another 17% are in the 55 to 64 age group.