Summer Flashback: A West Coast Girl’s Perspective on the Minnesota State Fair
Let’s start with the basics. I’m a born-and-bred San Diegan with a love for snow, because in Southern California we go to the snow; it doesn’t come to us. With that in the forefront of my mind, I moved to Minneapolis/Saint Paul for college in the hopes that I’d get some chilly winters and finally have a reason to buy a winter coat. My first year here I got both and was ecstatic. My Midwestern roommates have several late-night photos and videos of me playing in the snow that they would happily show you. So my freshman year I took in as much Minnesota as possible. I went to all of the museums, cafés, and landmarks that locals rave about. I built snowmen and decided to see what all the hubbub around the lakes was about. Sophomore year I revisited those places and decided on my favorites (Lucia’s and Magers & Quinn, in Uptown if you were curious).
I realized this past summer though that I had missed one big Minnesotan feature in my two years: the Minnesota State Fair. If you’re also a non-native, the Great Minnesotan Get Together, as they call it, is a huge deal. Millions flock from around the state in search of food and fun. Rain or shine, all Minnesota has to offer is on display. So with a roommate and camera in tow, I was off to the State Fair to see what all of the hype was about.
A shuttle bus and a walk later, my roommate and I had arrived. We scanned our tickets at the door and walked through the gates. I loved it immediately. Now listen, I’ve been to fairs, but nothing like this. There was fair as far as the eye could see and I didn’t know where to start. We were closest to the animals so we perused there. I grew up in the suburbs and at the beach so the closest thing to agriculture I’ve seen are the goats at the San Diego Zoo. I have so much respect for the world of agriculture and the sheer amount of work that goes into raising what the rest of the country lives on. Plus, the cows are super cute.
Our next stop was the Miracle of Birth Center. Allow me to reiterate the fact that I have little to no exposure to farming or the raising of animals. So while the Miracle of Birth Center was on my list of places I wanted to see, I was a bit taken aback by how true the name of the building speaks to its content. There was a video of pigs being born playing on a loop on a TV hung in the middle of the area. That was more than enough miracle for me.
My roommate and I decided we were starving, even after watching pigs give birth. I had heard about the All You Can Drink Milk stand from several people and knew I had to try it. The most surprising things that I had seen thus far at the fair were the prices. Everything is so cheap! That must be the Californian in me but you get quite a bit of bang for your buck. This stand has milk on tap and we chose chocolate. It was some of the best milk I’ve ever had. However, we quickly learned that three cups of chocolate milk should not be your first meal of the day.
The next obvious choice was to head off in search of more food. We landed on garlic fries and then topped it off with more dairy in the form of a soft-serve cone. These came with a side of realization: everything here is so fast! I’m used to waiting at least 10 minutes for fair food at the San Diego County Fair. Our fries were waiting for us shortly after I handed the cashier my money. I really was in love with this place.
As my roommate and I finished our frozen treats, we were in desperate need of a place to sit. We were stuffed and had been on our feet for a few hours at this point. What they don’t tell you if you’re from out of state is that the fairgrounds itself are massive. We’d been doing a lot of walking around and we needed a break. Neither of us are ‘ride people’ but the Space Tower was totally in our wheelhouse. We paid a few dollars each and got a truly breathtaking view of the cities. We also got to sit comfortably for about 10 minutes so we were ready for our next sight after we got off the ride.
Another feature at the fair I was told to see by a handful of people was the seed art. From context clues, I could guess what I was about to see but really had no frame of reference. I realized shortly after seeing Ruth Bader Ginsberg recreated in lentils and red beans that this area was Minnesota personified. Minnesotans certainly are not the bragging type, even though they produce some amazing things, and the State Fair is the 12 days a year they get to brag about themselves– and for good reason.
The State Fair is full of items Minnesotans get to be proud of. My favorite by far is all of the baked and canned goods. The judges get hundreds of entries every year and whittle them down to the best Minnesota has to offer. Regardless of winning status, they’re put in display cases in the Creative Activities Building for fairgoers to awe at. We spent the most time at the fair in front of those cases. I’m an avid baker and decided that day that I’m going to enter a baked good or two in 2018, if for no other reason than to be a part of the culture the fair has established.
Looking at food for an hour or so made us ridiculously hungry yet again. We decided on cheese curds– a classic. But if you’re anything like I am when it comes to food, you’ve got to balance the salty with sweet. So our very last stop was Sweet Martha’s, where we got a bucket of warm chocolate chip cookies for two and ate them while walking out until we could actually close the lid.
So long story short, I came to Minnesota for school but think I’ll be staying for a while. The State Fair gave me a few reasons, like endless chocolate milk and garlic fries. But this state has too many great qualities to offer and places to discover to move back home where all is familiar. I also need to win a blue ribbon for a baked good before I can leave the land of 10,000 lakes. You’ll be sure to hear me brag about it for more than 12 days though because I’m a Californian through-and-through.
Images by Francine Thompson
Francine Thompson is a Graphic Designer and Content Manager at Wit & Delight. She’s a design student at the University of Minnesota, an avid baker and the resident W&D style and interiors maven with a pulse on everything that’s hot right now. She hails from San Diego but currently resides in Minneapolis.