Eating Local at the MN State Fair

When I talk about eating local food at Minnesota's great get together, the MN State Fair (which starts today!), friends roll their eyes as though I've just suggested going to New York City and eating at Applebee's - why on earth would you eat local food at the State Fair, friends ask, when you can get fried alligator on a stick?

I'll admit to being one of those kinds of people. I'm not willing to trade in "eating fun" for "eating local," and - although I like to think of myself as a proud example of a person who does both - the MN State Fair tends to be all about the grease. I've had my days of corn dogs, fried alligator, and cheese curds, running in a panic from one Biff to another, wondering why on earth I made the choices I made. I'm not proud. But I'm happy to say that those days are (mostly) over. With Empire Commons (known by long-time fair goers as The Dairy Building) serving up shakes made from local milk (last year, I had one with rhubarb mixed in), and local emu producers showcasing their meat, there are more reasons than ever to try and eat local at the fair.

As I think about this year's fair, it's hard for me to wrap my head around how radically my food views have changed. I've written about the ways local food has changed my life in the past, but an event like the State Fair really brings my quest to celebrate local food producers into focus. My focus this year is not on fried Twinkies, chocolate bars on a stick, Princess Kay's head carved in butter, or Hawaiian shaved ice. Sure, those things have a place at the fair - and in my life - but it occurs to me that I was missing the point.

This year, I'm interested in spending some time with the bees and seeing how they produce honey. I want to learn more about the different breeds of local cows being raised in Minnesota, and see them milked. I want to celebrate the makers of the best pies in the state, and the most delicious homegrown pickles of the year. I want to talk with farmers, see the biggest organic melons raised in the state, and let my kids climb on tractors and other farm tools. I want to take a few minutes to think about - and to celebrate - the great state that we live in and how its land provides for us. I want to celebrate the people who spend their lives producing locally grown foods for us in sustainably ways. At the risk of going overboard on the hokey sentimentality, that's what the State Fair is truly about, isn't it?

All right, the reality is that some of us will race into the fair, grab a pronto pup, ride the giant slide (I'll be there, I promise), and have time to check out one building. If that's your plan, the St. Paul Pioneer Press has a good MN State Fair guide, which offers up this description of the Eco Experience:

Presented by the Minnesota State Fair and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Eco Experience debuted in 2006 to rave reviews. The winner of numerous awards, including the International Association of Fairs & Expositions Award of Excellence, the exhibit is designed to inspire people to lead healthier and more sustainable lives while improving the environment and quality of life. Interactive exhibits include a rain garden, alternative energy, a green building, organic agriculture and whole foods. Located in the Progress Center on Randall Avenue; open 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

Please let me know about your experience at the State Fair, this year and otherwise. We'll do our best to cover it at Simple, Good, and Tasty, but there's only so much our small staff can do.

The MN State Fair is open from 9 am to 9 pm, August 27 - September 7, 2009. It's located at 1265 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108-3109. The regular cost of admission is as follows:

  • Adults (13-64): $11
  • Seniors (65 & over): $9
  • Kids (5-12): $8
  • Children (Under 5) Free