Travel Tales from The Hub

The Great Minnesota Get Together

Ken Hubbard

By Ken Hubbard

Or maybe you know it as the Minnesota State Fair? Either way if you are from Minnesota and the surrounding states you know it as the place to be for the 12 days leading up to and into Labor Day. For those who have not heard of it, it just so happens to be the largest state fair (by average daily attendance) in the United States. The only other state fair that is larger is Texas (but Texas runs almost twice as long). The final attendance tally for the 2017 Minnesota State Fair was a record setting 1,997,320 people with another record for single day attendance at 260,374 visitors! I was one of those people during a 2 day period that had me walking over 7 miles each day. Every single one of my senses being charged by the sounds, sights and tastes that cover the entire state fair grounds.

© Ken Hubbard
All of Minnesota seems to attend: Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC HLD - 46mm, 1/160th, f/11 @ ISO640

Princess Kay and The Milky Way
I will admit, even though I am from New York my fascination with the Minnesota State Fair started more than 30 years ago when I saw a PBS special about the fair. A few amazing things stuck out above the rest, one of them being the butter sculptures. 12 finalist Dairy Princesses from counties throughout the state get their portraits carved out of a 90lb block of butter, while they sit in a chilled glass enclosure that spins (so the onlookers can see the artist at work). Of these 12 finalists 1 will be chosen as Princess Kay of the Milky Way and will make public appearances at the fair and throughout the year on behalf of the Minnesota dairy farmers.

© Ken Hubbard
Butter Head Sculptures: Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC HLD – 21mm, 1/50th, f/8 @ ISO 800

Next to capture my attention was the art exhibitions and competitions, specifically the Crop Art (seed art) competition. This is exactly what you think it is, artists use grains and seeds to create works of art in a mosaic style. Entrants range from portraits to landscapes to political statements, all using nothing but grains and seeds laid out in meticulous patterns. One of my favorites from the 2017 fair was a portrait done of the musician Prince.

© Ken Hubbard
Crop Art Portrait of Prince: Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC HLD – 92mm, 1/40th, f/5.3 @ ISO 400

4H – A Major Presence At The Fair
I was fortunate enough to have one of my co-workers and Minnesota resident, Jillian Bell, give me a first-hand look at the fair as well as providing me with tons of background information about it. Her and her husband have been part of 4H for most of their lives and still volunteer each year to do everything from managing the kids dorms to judging all types of 4H art competitions (as well countless other responsibilities).

4H is a world-wide organization for the youth, its four H’s stand for “Head, Heart, Hands & Health. In the United States the 4H program is administrated by National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which is part of the USDA and is meant to help develop life skills for youth and young adults ranging in age from 5 to 21. In the United States alone there are about 90,000 4H clubs with more than 6 million members.

At the fair, 4H has a significant presence with its own buildings, animal barns and arenas. With competitions in everything from livestock, herdsmanship and art you can spend multiple days just going through and watching all they have to offer. A few of the highlights for me were the Llama Costume Contest and walking through the live stock barns to see the hundreds of species of cows & pigs. During the Llama Costume Contest contestants from 4H, design and make costumes for themselves as well as their Llamas. They then need to train the Llama to be able to walk alongside them in full costume during the judging. By the size of the crowds (standing room only) this was definitely one of the fan favorites of the fair.

© Ken Hubbard
Llama Costume Contest: Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC HLD - 185mm, 1/50th, f/6.0 @ ISO 1600

© Ken Hubbard
Livestock Barn: Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC HLD - 240mm, 1/80th, f/6.3 @ ISO 200

Sights, Sounds and Tastes Of The Fair
No fair would be complete without having some live entertainment, food vendors, rides and fun displays. Here is where this fair takes that part of it to a level I have never seen before. Any fair that I have ever attended before could easily fit into the smallest little corner of the Minnesota State Fair! If you want to see live music a comedy act or live demonstrations there are countless to choose from, just walk around for a few minutes and you will come across something to take in and enjoy. It also gives you some time to sit down and rest your feet, because you will be walking more after the show is done.

© Ken Hubbard
Lumberjack Display: Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC HLD – 145mm, 1/3200th, f/6.3 @ ISO 1250

You will make a big mistake if you try to stick to a strict diet while at the fair. You can do your best to resist all the tempting items (on a stick) that the hundreds of food vendors have to offer. From pork chops on a stick to the roasted corn and of course cheese curds (fried or not), you will only resist for so long. So, my advice is to put the diet aside and just enjoy yourself. Workout a little harder once the fair is over. My personal favorite from the small percentage I was able to try was the: deep fried, cream cheese filled, bacon wrapped olives on a stick and a close second place went to the Hot Dish on a stick that consisted of Swedish meatballs and hushpuppies deep fried in a cornmeal batter with a side of white gravy. I know these may sound a little overwhelming flavor-wise, but they were a pretty amazing way to please my taste buds!

© Ken Hubbard
Stuffed Olives on a Stick: Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC HLD – 18mm, 1/640th, f/8 @ ISO 200

Some Much To Do, So Little time
Unfortunately I only had 2 days to spend at the fair and did my best to see as much of it as possible. With so much more to see, exhaustion eventually took over and I needed to get some sleep back at my hotel. I did walk away with a full belly and some great memories that will guide me back to this event in the very near future to see everything I missed. What makes it even easier of a decision to come back is the fact that upwards of 250,000 people can get together in a single place and all get along to have a great time at one of America’s oldest traditions…the state fair!

Thank you Minnesota for hosting such great get together!

© Ken Hubbard
Minnesota: Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC HLD – 30mm, 1/20th, f/8 @ ISO 2000

All images captured with the Tamron 18-400mm Di II VC HLD Lens