Outhouse Races, Chocolate-Covered Deep Fried Cheesecake, and the Butter What? Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair

By Sabrina Völz

Cred­it “Iowa State Fair – Day 2” by Phil Roeder

When tourists from all over the world plan their vaca­tions to the Unit­ed States, they often stick to tried and true places to vis­it: Nation­al parks, Dis­ney attrac­tions, beach­es, mon­u­ments, out­let malls, and muse­ums. While they cer­tain­ly are wor­thy places to vis­it, they won’t bring vis­i­tors clos­er to the peo­ple, con­tem­po­rary cul­ture, and every­day life in Amer­i­ca like a good ole state fair. As an Iowan, I may be some­what biased, but I whole­heart­ed­ly agree: “Noth­ing Com­pares to the Iowa State Fair” (this year’s motto).

Although the Iowa State Fair is not the old­est – that hon­or goes to the New York State Fair first held in Syra­cuse in 1841 – it is one of the best state fairs in the nation and places in the top 10 of most rank­ings. The Iowa State Fair, locat­ed right in the mid­dle of the heart­land, has been in oper­a­tion con­tin­u­al­ly since 1854 except for a time dur­ing WWII. The first vis­i­tors trav­elled by cov­ered wag­on to the large­ly agri­cul­tur­al show­case held in Fair­field which includ­ed spec­tac­u­lar exhibits and enter­tain­ment, such as “female eques­tri­an­ism” oth­er­wise known as female horse­back rid­ing. The Fair is five years old­er than the state, which became the 29th state in the Union on Decem­ber 28, 1846. Iowans like to point out that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musi­cal, State Fair (1933), was inspired by their fair. Today, it draws over 1.1 mil­lion vis­i­tors from all over the world to its per­ma­nent fair­grounds in Des Moines each year. So now that you know the basic facts, let the fun begin.

The biggest draws of the Fair are prob­a­bly the parade – the kick­off – and the but­ter cow sculp­ture that was added in 1911. Believe it or not, the creamy art­work stands about 5 ½ feet tall and is 8 feet long, takes any­where from 5 to 10 days to cre­ate, and weighs 600 pounds. Now that’s a lot of butter.

Agri­cul­tur­al and live­stock com­pe­ti­tions can lit­er­al­ly be found in every nook and cran­ny. Con­tests for peo­ple of all ages and inter­ests also abound. 900 food class­es are judged each year. How ‘bout them pumpkins?

Fair orga­niz­ers try to bal­ance ‘the tried and true’ with new entries. Past con­tests have includ­ed the hilar­i­ous pig call­ing con­test and a side-split­ting­ly fun­ny kid’s joke bat­tle. Among many oth­ers, this year fea­tures the State Fair Queen Com­pe­ti­tion, a pie eat­ing con­test, the Iowa State Chili Cook Off Cham­pi­onship, and the Out­house Races that date back to 2004. You have to see that one to believe it:

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Now, who else but an inge­nious Iowan could think up that event? Fair ven­dors are also quite clever when it comes to putting food on a stick. This year fea­tures 82 dif­fer­ent vari­eties. Take a look at a few mouth­wa­ter­ing entries.

Deep-fried pecan pie on a stick as well as the pick­le pop­per (a whole dill pick­le cut in two, then stuffed with cream cheese, shred­ded cheese, bacon, jalapeños, man­darin oranges, dipped in a bat­ter and deep fried) make their debut this year. Let’s face it: Bacon is heav­i­ly rep­re­sent­ed on menus across the fair­grounds, but that fact should not be so sur­pris­ing since Iowa is by far the largest pork-pro­duc­ing state in the nation, adding 4.2 bil­lion dol­lars to the nation­al GDP annu­al­ly. Veg­ans and veg­e­tar­i­ans, how­ev­er, should find a lot of tasty treats to whet their appetites. After all, noth­ing brings peo­ple togeth­er more than good food and fun, friend­ly com­pe­ti­tion, and qual­i­ty time with your fam­i­ly and friends.

Final­ly, the Fair offers edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties as well as music con­certs, polit­i­cal speech­es, rides for thrill seek­ers, and many ven­dors sell­ing every­thing but the kitchen sink.

And when your feet are numb and you can’t walk any­more, one of the 1,800+ vol­un­teers need­ed to run Iowa’s largest annu­al event will pick you up in a tram and dri­ve you back to the camp­grounds or the park­ing lot. Now if that isn’t ser­vice I don’t know what is. The Fair runs from Thurs­day, August 9 to Mon­day, August 20 and is rea­son­ably priced. Adults (ages 12 and over) pay $12, chil­dren (ages 6–11) cost $6, and chil­dren 5 and under are free. If you can’t make it this year, there is always 2019.

The Iowa State Fair is as Amer­i­can as apple pie – on a stick!


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