To: Jerry Hammer
Minnesota State Fair
St. Paul, Minn.
There is a rhythm to the seasons in Minnesota, and that means that the end of summer is celebrated with the Minnesota State Fair, August 27 to Labor Day, September 7. The State Fair represents the last opportunity to take your summer girlfriend to a fun event just before all the fun ends and the dreaded school year begins. And in Minnesota, we have one of the largest state fairs in the entire nation. The State Fair is located on its own 320-acre fairgrounds midway between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Even though the State Fairgrounds are located within the metropolitan area, state statute says they are self-governed by the Minnesota State Agricultural Society. However, no public monies have been appropriated for the State Fair since 1949; it remains entirely self-sufficient.
Members of the State Agricultural Society are specified by state statute (M.S. 37.03, if anyone chooses to check). Don’t expect to find any of these individuals on your primary or general election ballot—they are even more anonymous than your usual elected representative to the watershed district.
And speaking of politicians, no Minnesota State Fair would be complete without a full agenda of office seekers. I remember two in particular. Rudy Perpich—all 6 foot 3 inches of him—would stand at the busiest intersection at the State Fair during the hottest days shaking hands and waving to fairgoers/voters for hours on end. It seemed to many of us that, in an earlier life, he might have been a carnival barker. The other Rudy, Rudy Boschwitz, took a more commercial approach.
For years, on the block immediately adjacent to the “lodge” maintained by the Minnesota State Fisheries and Wildlife Division (now DNR), Boschwitz would occupy his milk stand where you could get a glass of milk for free (and later, for a nominal charge). He would man that booth for hours and dispense gallons of milk with ounces of political wisdom. Both Rudys would attract large crowds, but at a later point in time, Jesse “The Body” (aka “Governor”) attracted some of the largest crowds the State Fair had ever seen. And these are large crowds indeed because, over its 12-day run, it is expected that 1.9 million people will attend the fair. It truly is the Great Minnesota Get-Together. This year, the sheer number of Republican presidential candidates alone would swell the attendance figures. This may be one of the few years when there has not been at least one candidate from Minnesota running for president. After all, we’ve had Bachmann, Pawlenty, Harold Stassen (many times), McCarthy, Mondale, Humphrey, Freeman and many more now lost to the mists of antiquity.
Wait till New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gets a chance to visit the Minnesota State Fair; it is noted for unusual and ever-present foods. This year alone, more than 50 new foods will be introduced, including “cowboy bits,” mac-and-cheese cupcakes and deep-fried ribs. These firsts will join such stalwarts as deep-fried butter bites and foot-long hot dogs. We expect to see Donald Trump enjoying the food at Taco King.
Walking among the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the fair on a daily basis, and stopping frequently at the thousands of food offerings, it is not hard to understand why health insurance companies have announced such large recent premium increases. Look around. Or when you are on a diet and want to feel thin, look around again.
And while you’re looking around, visit the animal barns. After all, agriculture and animal husbandry are what started state fairs in the first place. My favorites, being from Iowa, are the hog barns (remember health care premium increases) and fowl barns. The former provides indirect sex education for the under-12 set, and the latter answers the question “Just how many different kinds of chickens are there?”
And just how many different kinds of political and social beliefs are there? Well, one can find an advocate for just about any part of the human ideological spectrum sprinkled throughout the State Fair. Sen. Bernie Sanders could actually find people who agree with him. The NRA and anti-gun folk are joined by various religious groups, social activist groups and others almost too numerous to count. All at the great Minnesota State Fair. In the old days, $20 would last an entire day at the State Fair. Now it’s pretty much parking or transportation fees.
And on the topic of transportation, the State Fair does provide suburbanites with probably the only time when they will take some form of mass transportation. Who knew we had buses in the Twin Cities?
The State Fair typically ends on Labor Day. It is a fitting end to a great summer and the gateway to one of Minnesota’s best seasons, fall. We’ll all be seeing those turkeys again in November. TCB
Vance K. Opperman
60 years at the State Fair and counting
Vance K. Opperman (email@example.com) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.