Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fair Competition

After Marie at 66squarefeet posted on the vegetable competition at this weekend's fair, I've begun looking at my vegetables differently. Like, are they good looking? Where previously I cared not for scarred eggplants, I'm now saying to myself "no, no these couldn't win. What's causing these scars anyway?"

I'm not sure how I feel about this kind of competition. It does seem a weird thing to get hooked into, a madness maybe. And I'm already mad about this or that -to add another thing? I'm rambling now, trying to work something out.


I took dozens of pictures of the rows and rows of competitive vegetables at the Minnesota State Fair two weeks ago. Why? I'm not really sure -maybe to mock it, but also to revel in its color scheme, the organizing. Fair competitions are all about categorization. Fair competitions are also where local pride expectorates, even over the most miniscule achievements. And to avoid "Well we're talking apples and oranges here, how could you compare my tomato with that one," they divide best tomato into 100 variations of best tomato.



What non-winning potatoes look like. Would you enter these?

All of this had me feeling a little like this and that.

Which, of course is also a competition -decorated gourds. I believe there's also a scarified gourd competition, exemplified by the gourd on the right which instructs people to teach their kids to eat vegetables. It's only at an agricultural fair that I begin to see the connection between what we're being told to eat and what the farmer's growing -and it's all been written into the skin of a pumpkin. Moses be proud.

The potted herbs competition.

And Christmas trees (these were really perfect).

And the sideshow category of the largest, and most inedible, of everything.

This was actually the winner, not the runny one. Notice the difference in the "largest" category -shit don't need to be pretty, just big. Big is it's own beauty.

Banana squash.

And of course, the grand daddy of them all, the pumpkins.

Here's the winner.

For the record (1036 lbs.).

Last weekend while we were driving home from Minnesota, Garrison Keillor showed up with the Prairie Home Companion on Chicago Public Radio. He was broadcasting from the grandstand at the fair. If you listen to the program, honestly, I think he captured the atmosphere of the Minnesota State Fair -the largest state fair in the U.S. (I think Texas is now giving it some competition).

What is apparent at the MnSF is the intermingling of the city and the farm. Minneapolis and St. Paul are the urban centers of a region that has made its wealth on the backs of grain farmers. Minneapolis was, until fairly recently, a center of grain milling. Some of the largest companies in the area are General Mills, Cargill, Pillsbury. Many of the people in these cities still have farming in the family, and many more are only a generation or two away from the farm. The people who live in the city still retain a little of that rural culture. But one thing for sure, at its core, the fair is the once-a-year opportunity for rural folks to gather in crowds, take the stage, and exert rural culture's influence on the city.

All this leaves me wondering what an urban county fair will be like. What cues will be taken from the country fair? Will it be tongue in cheek, stoked by irony? A country fair in the city, that is age old. What of a city fair in the city? Funny, more than anything I can imagine the retail exhibitors and the food vendors. But, will we judge our dogs instead of goats and horses? Or will we get goats? Vegetables -well, that's obvious and easy for all of us trying our hands at vegetable gardens or farms. And chickens -sure. But should we have FFA -Future Farmers of America chapters? How about 4H? Something new? What or who defines fair fodder. How do we redefine something so heavy with tradition? Any ideas?

I am going to miss tomorrow's fair. So I hope to learn something about it from the press or the way more connected bloggers. I'm wondering now about a King's County Fair as a defining activity or event (Ha! Like Woodstock or something), something exemplary of a generation or cultural attitude. Except, instead of drugs and screwing, there'll be cheese made in the cellar of a brownstone and presentations of urban vermicomposting. We may as well accept who we are.


  1. Yes, it's a puzzle...As I write it's raining and I'm musing about sliding around on the roof gathering my cherry tomatoes and giant cucuzza etc etc for the Fair three blocks away. I know that they can't possibly win anything, because they are unimpressive, but somehow the idea of something so rural and storied appeals. I've never seen real American state fair.

  2. How do you know they cannot win?
    What is the competition like?
    Find out!

    You should go to one. New Paltz has the county fairgrounds, not far from where you traveled last fall. I don't know when it is however.

    Think smell of animals! And fried foods!

  3. And now that I got that off my chest, I won't take the fair so seriously. It should be fun! or no one will want to go.

  4. I wish we had fairs/competitions like this. It really looks so much fun!


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