Last Updated on August 31, 2017 by Janet Frost
Wisconsin vs Minnesota State Fairs
Earlier this month I posted about my visit to the Wisconsin State Fair. This week, thanks to Roseville Visitor’s Association, I enjoyed the Minnesota State Fair. I relished the chance to compare these two Midwest icons. While Wisconsin and Minnesota share many agricultural, geographic and ethnic characteristics, the states have very unique personalities. Naturally, their respective Fairs reflect that uniqueness.
Let’s take a look at the Minnesota State Fair.
Unfortunately, our day scheduled for the Fair offered grey and drippy skies. It was the first Saturday of the 12-day event and the rain did not deter the fairgoers. Armed with umbrellas and plastic ponchos the revelers poured in.
“I like cookies!”
The first stop had to be Minnesota State Fair’s most beloved food, Sweet Martha’s Cookies. In my Wisconsin State Fair post I talked about the mandatory Cream Puffs, here at the Minnesota State Fair it is a bucketful of soft warm gooey chocolate chip cookies. On a chilly rainy day these absolutely heaven-scent (pun intended!) morsels made the sun shine!
We even got to meet Sweet Martha’s adorable kids who exuded warmth and gooeyness just like their cookies. The story is that their parents started the Sweet Martha business at the Fair in 1979, the original intent was to sell frozen yogurt. Well you know what they say about “best laid plans”….the Fair wanted the cookies not the yogurt and 38 years later, Sweet Martha’s now has 3 prime locations on the fair grounds and boasts over a million dollars in sales during the 12 fair days.
I have been to the WI State Fair, IA State Fair, MN State Fair and the NE State Fair, all of them claim to be the originator of the everything-on-a-stick phenomenon. Also, all these fairs offer a plethora of fried whatever served from a food truck. This usually makes most fairgoers’ hearts go pitter-patter, but it makes my stomach go shake, rattle and roil. So I leave the food highlighting to some of my fellow bloggers. I gravitate to the more traditional and social aspects of a State Fair. Scenes of farm families lounging, napping and dining in a makeshift family room next to their cows. 4-H parents proudly cheering from the stands as prizes are awarded. Young competitors grooming their livestock contestants. In many ways these tableaux play out the same at all State Fairs. I search for the different.
My family always abandons me for the Merchandise Mall when I head to the “craft barn”. In my post of the Wisconsin State Fair I complained about the way the fair showcased these arts and about the waning interest in the exhibition. At the Wisconsin fair this building gets more and more obscured by the surrounding carnival every year. The Minnesota State Fair honors its arts and artists far better. Initially, I thought both fairs housed their arts in similar buildings.
But as I wandered through I discovered that it was a massive collection and the displays were well-spaced with good lighting within the cases. What really struck me was the variety of arts on display. The building’s contents spoke of a society that values art in all its expressions. From large furniture with silky smooth finish to minute intricately cut paper I enjoyed contemporary, traditional and lost art techniques. The cases were brimming with works proudly reflecting the northern European influence of this state’s early settlers.
Lost Arts found at the Minnesota State Fair
Traditional Scandinavian arts that only “Grandma’s” still know how to create thrilled me. Do I want them decorating my home? Probably not, but the skills required for these pieces are almost lost to the new generations. Imagine Caroline (Ma) Ingalls making delicate lace for Mary’s dress, or Charles(Pa) buffing and sanding a new highchair for Baby Carrie.
Something Old, Something New at the U
Across the street from the Creative Arts building was the brand new U of Minn Drive to Discover Building. The building provides professor and student researchers a venue to survey large cross-sections of their state. There were several booths set up inside each with a different U of Minn research survey. This is a brilliant way to access much of the state’s often remote populations. I chatted with Dental Professors assessing the dental health perceptions, expectations and accessibility of care across the state. A Neuroscience Law Professor discussed what he hoped to find with his survey of concussion events among young teen athletes. Who knew there was such a thing as Neuroscience Law? Minnesota often spearheads policy-making in regards to medical advances and this was a chance for fairgoers to be an active participant.
After all this history, culture, crafts, learning fun and RAIN I needed some comfort food. As I stated before I am not a fan of typical fair food. As I wandered down the streets of the Minnesota State Fair I noticed this place with its tables and red striped awning. This spot was actually on my list for “new foods” in 2017. The wild rice meatballs with lingonberry sauce had been highlighted on the website. But as I stood in the warm, dry and cozy line I spotted Ham Loaf. My children scorn this dish but it transports me back to my childhood so I could not resist.
A Little More History and Some Learning Fun
With my batteries recharged I set out for more of the Minnesota State Fair. Obviously Minnesota takes its history very seriously and considers the State Fair a great showcase. I found this very informative and entertaining Printing Museum. They had the big old presses cranking and whirring.
The Math-on-a Stick and Alphabet Forest venues make learning numbers and letters surprisingly fun. Both booths offered a wide variety of hands on puzzles, brainteasers, building blocks and visiting experts.
Minnesota does not take itself too seriously
Minneapolis loves public art. In another post I will highlight the serene Walker Sculpture Garden. Even their green spaces are artistically laid out. Here at the Minnesota State Fair they have a very fun version of public art…Yarn Bombs! What?! you say. As a knitter I could not miss this great event.
The Grandstand is full of slicing and dicing vendors and as you exit towards the siren call of the Midway you find the famous Minnesota State Fair Yarn Bomb Competition.
Where is the rest?
All state fairs are daunting to cover in one day. The Minnesota State Fair is really impossible to even dent in one day. Of course there are foods on a stick, carnival rides, craft beers, marching bands, barns full of livestock, lumberjacks, DNR towers, headliner performances and hot tub salesman, just like at any other state fair. If you want some more traditional suggestions check out the posts from my companions:
Minnesota State Fair Foodies Guide on eatlivedrink.com
Soaking Up the Minnesota State Fair on thewalkingtourists.com
30 Free Things to do at the Minnesota State Fair on simplylivelove.com
10 Minnesota State Fair foods for under $10 on littlefamilyadventure.com
I wanted to highlight some of the quirkier offerings of the Minnesota State Fair. I hope you enjoyed them, I sure did.
The fair runs through Labor Day so you still have a beautiful weekend to get out and enjoy this sensory extravaganza. For my fellow Wisconsinites that missed this year be sure to venture north next year. The Minnesota State Fair really does trump the Wisconsin State Fair. But why not experience both?!