The end of August. The end of summer. Yet, something magical awaits for those that dare go. Those that travel to Falcon Heights, Minnesota during the last weeks of August.
The Great Minnesota Get Together aka The Minnesota State Fair.
The Minnesota State Fair has a long running tradition in my family starting way back before I was even born, before the new Grandstand even existed. Back when there was still a race track, and a tunnel at the Grandstand. Back when the workers had a different colored T-shirt every year.
My dad started working the Grandstand over 35 years ago at the Minnesota State Fair. He eventually was Assistant Captain of Grandstand so he was kind of a big deal up there. He loved seeing all the people, greeting them, showing them to their seats. He did extra up there too just because he enjoyed it so much from unloading buses on the bus loop to working the Milk Run every year. He considered it his vacation. You only had 12 days, you made it fun. He would pack up my entire family for the 12 days and we would all stay in the campgrounds on site. Before I was born, it was in a pick-up camper, then a Winnebago, then a Coachmen, a year in there where borrowed a camper from a friend and then finally our big motorhome. It was a family affair. In fact, my brother and sister both went on to work at the State Fair too.
When they rebuilt the Grandstand, he switched to Captain of the Main Gate at the fair. Gate 5. The Big Kahuna. The gate puts more people through than any other gate on the grounds.
Now I guess you could say the MN State Fair is in my blood. After all, I’m 23 years old but have been going there for 24 years. Think about it. Yup. The joke around my family is that I was conceived at the State Fair. Maybe that’s where my fondness for cheesecurds, milkshakes and creampuffs come from? I had no control, started before I was born.
Some of my best memories are at the fair. Martha’s Sweet Cookies. Pickle Dog. Axel’s kettle chips. Bucket of Fries. Cinnamon Roasted Almonds. Turtle Cheesecake on a Stick. Kiwanis Malts. Footlong Hotdogs. Okay…a lot of my memories revolve around food. I may have even cried when they tore down William’s Diner on the fairgrounds. Okay, I did cry. But we did things like visit all the barns- the horses were my favorite. I got my first Build-A-Bear there, before they got big. I attended my first concerts from Christina Aguilera, Brooks & Dunn to Weird Al Yankovic. I watched animals get spayed and neutered in the Pet Center. I won t-shirts and other prizes. I watched the 4-H performing arts shows. The parade was at 2pm every day. You could see the fireworks from our camper. I was even interviewed by Darcy Poland from WCCO TV when the campgrounds switched to tighter spaces one year. It was a big deal. And let’s not forget the year Corndogus-eternus was a phrase all Minnesotan’s were saying.
I guess it was only destiny I would follow in my father’s footsteps and work at the State Fair too. My mom and I both started working the gate with him. I worked five years at the Main Gate. Four of them with him, one without. He passed away in 2009 in a construction accident. That year, I tried to work again. It just wasn’t the same. The fun loving guy who would buy the whole crew food from Jonathan’s family’s restaurant. Jonathan, is one of the lifelong friends I made while working. Or the same guy who made it so fun for us that Amee came back all the way from Florida just to work the fair. Amee, is another lifelong friend I made working on the gate. Or the fact that my Dad convinced my 8th grade teacher Mr. Timm to come work the gate, and he still does.
We had a lot of fun in our 12 crazy, long days from things like catching all the fake, horribly drawn on stamps- sorry you aren’t that good at it, our code words for crazy things we saw, awful plaid pants, telling people sorry- no dogs allowed, and even busting fake tickets. We put through thousands upon thousands of people each day through our gate. And yes, the gates close at 10. You can get out, you can’t get in.
The State Fair makes me miss my dad. But I also realize he left a legacy there too. Three of our friends from church now help operate the same gate. He got them all started and hired on his crew. They make it fun just like he did. He has a brick down by the grandstand with his name on. He was also honored the last year he worked before he died as a MSF All-Star Award winner after he helped a lost little boy, as well as noticed a lady who seemed sort of confused and took the time to sit her down and help her. Turned out, she had Alzheimer’s and she was missing from her family on the grounds. When her husband came to get her at the gate, he had tears in his eyes. My father taught me a lot that day.
This year, I feel honored in a way, to be working at the State Fair again, but in a different capacity. I am working the MN Farm Bureau in their building and in the CHS Miracle of Birth Center with the Ag Cab Lab. This year, I feel like I’m honoring my dad in 2 ways: The State Fair and Agriculture in one shot.
The MN Farm Bureau building is located at 1305 Underwood St. directly across from the food building and is open from 9am to 9pm every day, August 22nd- September 2nd during the fair. This year they are featuring local authors, reading their books about farming. You can even enter a drawing to win these books! You can also complete a small quiz to try and win a insulated lunch bag. Maybe you have some questions about agriculture, you can talk to real farmers and ask them any question you have when you visit the Farm Bureau booth. Maybe you are looking for something to keep your kids occupied for a while for free, they can take a ride in the Ag Cab Lab, a real combine with virtual harvesting games on it. They can learn about the equipment a farmer uses on their farm while getting a hands-on chance to do it themselves. Ask a farmer a question, enter for a chance to win a set of children’s books, win a lunch bag, learn about Minnesota crops and get a recipe. Sounds like the best building on the grounds to me!
At the end of the day we know its about food. The farmers providing all that smorgasbord of food for the fair, and the fact that that is what we came there for. Food.
So don’t forget to get the garlic fries at Ballpark Cafe, and a Hawaiian Shaved Ice. If you stop at Gate 5, ask for the Captain, and have him tell you all about Marv Borchert, the guy who left a legacy at the gate.
The State Fair starts next Thursday, August 22nd and runs through Labor Day, September 2nd. Tickets can be purchased at the gate. Parking is available at the fairgrounds or shuttles are available. More information about the Minnesota State Fair can be found at mnstatefair.org