Additionally, this gave others an opportunity to sell unusual sights and experiences to the farmers and their families. Midways with terrifying rides and girly shows, rigged games and freaks, were the subjects of conversations for the next 364 days back in Ottertail County. Foods that were unlikely to be available at home were sold to those who spent the entire fair on the grounds or were just visiting for the day. Horse races and car races were a staple of entertainment.
The state fair has changed. Travel is no longer the uncomfortable experience of the past. Agriculturalists jump into air-conditioned diesel 4x4 crew cab pickups and after a couple of hours at most are at the fairgrounds. Since most dairy herds are fathered through the artificial insemination process, there's no need to even own a bull or display your own. The 4-H, an organization for rural youth, encourages animal husbandry and members send and exhibit their cattle but the practice is a remnant of the past. Pigs and chickens are a sight for city and suburban children that have never looked on one before.
Farmers can chat over the phone with machinery dealers and look at equipment in operation via computer. Some even go to the manufacturer's plants to watch their very own monster tractor being assembled. Tractor and combine companies no park fewer and fewer of their wares wheel-to-wheel on Machinery Hill for granger's inspection.
The fact is that much of what made the state fair an attraction in the past is now provided by other, more spectacular sources. Horse races are contested, with pari-mutuel betting, at a track on the other side of the city. Car races are held regularly in other locations as well. The scary Midway rides aren't nearly as exciting as those at the permanent amusement park down the road. Television and movies provide a steady diet of freaks.
So,what's left? As always, food. And music. For a time there was a rival exhibition called "Taste of Minnesota". Attendees were able to buy and eat a variety of over-priced and unhealthy food while listening to generally bad music. Sadly this institution failed. The State Fair was quick to fill the void and as time has passed transformed itself into its own "Taste of Minnesota". It actually admits as much. Local papers tout the inventive culinary choices available.
Instead of cud-chewing bovines and roaring race cars, fair goers will get to see local musical acts that they've probably never heard of. Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift and Pitbull aren't on the fair schedule.
In his book Old Glory, Jonathon Raban describes his impressions of the Minnesota State Fair:
The state fair sprawled across a hillside and a valley, and at first glance it did indeed look like a city under occupation by an army of rampaging Goths. I'd never seen so many enormous people assembled in one place. These farming families from Minnesota and Wisconsin were the descendants of hungry immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia. Their ancestors must have been lean and anxious men with the famines of Europe bitten into their faces. Generation by generation, their families had eaten themselves into Americans. Now they all had the same figure: same broad bottom, same Buddha belly, same neckless join between turkey-wattle chin and sperm whale torso. The women had poured themselves into pink stretch-knit pant suits, the men swelled against every seam and button of their plaid shirts and Dacron slacks. Under the brims of their caps, their food projected from their mouths. Foot-long hot dogs. Bratwurst sausages, dripping with hot grease. Hamburgers. Pizzas. Scoops of psychedelic ice cream. Wieners-dun-in-buns.
Stumbling, half-suffocated, through this abundance of food and flesh, I felt like a brittle matchstick man. Every time I tried to turn my head I found someone else's hot dog, bloody with ketchup, sticking into my own mouth.