The State Fair Could Fare Better
Caitlin Abrams

The State Fair Could Fare Better

Branding expert Aaron Keller makes the case for a shift from consumption to sustainable solutions.

The great Minnesota calorie intake is here again, better and bigger than ever.

As one of the longest standing get-togethers of the North Star State, starting in 1859, you can see our history reflected in its activities, vendors, and visitors. Academics have studied the history of the Minnesota State Fair and identified the point at which we transitioned from a production driven society to consumption driven. There was a time when your identity was tied to how much you produced, not consumed. Before WWII, Machinery Hill was vastly more focused on agricultural and industrial equipment than food on a stick.

Today, we consume, therefore we are.

We certainly can see what unbridled consumption brings: obesity, abundant waste, warmer earth, and depleted natural resources. Beyond the EcoExperience, Fine Arts, and perhaps a couple of other culturally driven exhibits, attendance of the State Fair could be likened to eating all day and believing that walking to each food stall is your exercise. Don’t kid yourself, the walking doesn’t offset the more than modest amount of calories consumed. I’ve done the math.

It’s high time we put responsible consumption on a stick.

How exactly do we skewer a sustainable solution? A few “experimental” thought starters:

  1. What if everyone had to walk at least a mile to get to the State Fair?
  2. Introduce an entry fee indexed by how much you consume in resources (ie; are you flying in on a private jet or do you drive an EV) based on your own personal carbon footprint.
  3. Add events that celebrate exercise, responsible consumption and living a more fulfilling life on less (like an ultramarathon that goes for 10 days, a minimalism parade or a series of bike vs horse races).

My choice would be option 3 as we’d likely have protests outside the fair for shaming those who have over consumed. Full transparency: I’m well aware of what excess consumption feels like, and my ticket would not be free.

This isn’t a rant from a “fair hater.” As proof, I love the Fine Arts building, and not just because they have the best bathrooms. I don’t like the first year foods; I prefer those that survive to the second year—that’s a list I’d like to see. And, I know where the hidden grocery store is located (hint: behind the sheep barn) and have used it. This event is something I love dearly and you know your best critics are those who love you. Fairborne, you can do better.

Igniting the next transition

Just as we transitioned from production to consumption, we need to ignite the next transition, to responsible consumption. This is where our amazing state fair can take a page from the International World’s Fair, where a vision for the future is articulated, designed and woven into the experience:“World’s Fairs were conceived, funded, developed, and offered by those with the political power and economic resources to celebrate and promote their vision of what a nation and the world should become.” This higher level vision would ground the Fair experience for the next five, ten or twenty years.

The Minnesota State Fair is a reflection of our values as not only a state, but a larger society, and currently, it looks like we are merely looking for the next best corn dog. We have more to showcase and could easily replace some of the dusty attractions with these added options. The State Fair organization has an opportunity, and honestly, the obligation to amplify the fringe to help transition our social motivations to the next phase. Here is the start of my list:

  • Startup energy. The Black Entrepreneur State Fair, which held events last week, could easily become part of the hustle and bustle at the State Fairgrounds.
  • WFH movement. Create a place for cities, suburbs and neighborhoods to spotlight the innovations, cultural movements and reasons we should live, work or visit their community—now that communities see themselves as brands.
  • Transportation as exercise. Let’s deck out those wagons to transport more than ice from vendor to vendor, but also fair royalty (average citizens) and allow others to run a rickshaw for a side “hustle” at the fair.

If you’re up for an intellectual calorie burn equal to what you just consumed at the State Fair, let’s start the hard transition to our new future. Minnesota is certainly a leader in food production, retail and healthcare—and with this trifecta, there’s nothing to stop us from leading the change to sustainable consumption.


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