Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Summer on a stick (record-breaking 2014 Minnesota State Fair)

We almost got to the Minnesota State Fair this year but as it turns out we weren't really needed. 

Without our help 2014 goes into the books with a new State Fair attendance record set. Thank you to the 1.8 million visitors (and then some) and the gorgeous August weather for making this record possible.

The Minnesota State Fair, our final summer hurrah before school begins and fall arrives, really did itself big this year.

Our State Fair is one of the standout state fairs in the country. It has some of the highest attendance numbers even without the count that we put in this year. 

I won't discount Texas, and certainly not Iowa, and a handful of other states who also know how to throw a State Fair party. We're all states that esteem our State Fairs and each with its particular foods and flair.

The Minnesota State Fair retains its draw even as its expands and modernizes. I think this is in part because it manages to keep its down home feel. 

The twelve days it runs are full of events that stay the same with changes introduced that keep the State Fair evolving.

It's a place for food on a stick (it's the stuff that legends are made of) and many other kinds of food and dining venues. You can fare well at our Minnesota State Fair.

Many visitors make a beeline for the Miracle of Birth birthing barn. Farm animals are born and we get to watch. 

It brings us in touch with our rural heritage which is only a couple generations removed (or even less) for plenty of us.

We can see the horses, chickens and bunnies which have their bucolic appeal in the midst of so much Fair clangor.

We can sit in on the judging of farm animals carefully raised for showing at the fair by dedicated youngsters who tend them and come with them to the fair.

We can buy tickets for Grandstand performances, try our luck on the Midway and do the rides. We can check out the homemade jellies and carrot cake and marvel at the array of bars, a Minnesota baking tradition.

One can assess the local art scene (the art exhibit hall is a stop I always make), sample Minnesota wines and get a health check or meander through the global market, not to be missed.

We can chat with our politicians (the ones we vote for and the others ones, those for whom we don't.) 

Each candidate who visits the State Fair (an important place for them to be seen) likely views each of us as a possible vote and a golden opportunity come November.

We voters can discuss directly with the candidates our issues or concerns. Politics at the State Fair is a proving ground for democracy at its truest and most grassroots level. 

We can buy some useful or clever item from the commerce building (or elsewhere) that we don't know how we ever lived without before its marvels were demonstrated to us. 

The State Fair is a chance to revisit favorite places from all the times before. It's a small city to explore. Wear athletic shoes and be prepared to hike a few miles. 

Another helpful tip: locate the patches of shade (they're scattered across the grounds) and all air-conditioned buildings. Someday you'll appreciate you did your homework.

In 90 degree heat (last year six days were in the 90s at the State Fair, and we were there sweltering on the hottest of those days) you'll want to know how to escape the sun.

Local TV stations broadcast their nightly news programs live from locations around the State Fair. Show up at news time and you might be on TV as as part of the TV audience.

A bench to sit on feels wonderful by late afternoon when the news programs begin. Be in the front rows if you can. They're closer to the food samples that will be passed out sometime in the program courtesy of the many different food venders. 

The local stations do a fabulous job of promoting the fair (as do the local papers, in a concerted effort to present to the metro community the State Fair adventures that await.)

There are on-site interviews and interesting facts shared about the fair. This detailed and varied coverage lets everyone attend, even those in front of our TVs as it was for us this year. 

When I'm at the Minnesota State Fair I always think of old family friends of ours. They didn't miss a year, not even when it got difficult for them to walk and to be on their feet for any period of time.

They loved the State Fair. They put up with the heat and inconveniences because they looked forward to it with the eagerness that never stales. 

They wouldn't have missed the Minnesota State Fair for the world. They loved it because it was their tradition. 

Do anything once and enjoy it, then do it again and you have the start of a tradition, no matter what it is.

Tradition aligns you in a way that feels right and proper. It sets you straight with your world to have some tradition that matters to you. It says something to you that may be only a whisper to others or heard not at all.

For roughly a third of Minnesota the State Fair we embrace is not a whisper and it surely doesn't go unheard.

It's a robust call-out to find ourselves and find each other each year as summer slides into September and another school year begins. Students are in the classrooms the very next day after the final day, which is always Labor Day. 

Seeing the Minnesota State Fair come to an end makes the last bite of our desserts on a stick taste both sweet and bittersweet.

Ro Giencke - September 3, 2014

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