Discovering the Minnesota State Fair

Scrambler

The first year I lived in Minnesota, I heard a lot of talk about the state fair. It seemed like the Minnesotan event of the summer, the one thing that everyone seemed to go to. I was intrigued. I’d never been to a state fair before. Oh, sure, Michigan has one, and New York has one too. New Jersey even has a state fair (although I didn’t know until I looked it up just now)! And yet I’d never been to any of them.

Growing up, I thought only people who raised livestock went to the fair. I was slightly disturbed by the whole idea, having grown up reading and watching Charlotte’s Web. I didn’t want to see cute little(!) pigs and cows that would be eaten when they got home. My parents weren’t interested in going to the fair either, but for different reasons. It seems the Michigan State Fair is held in a somewhat sketchy part of town. Neither of my parents grew up going to fair; it just wasn’t the thing to do there. So I was pretty surprised to find out that it IS the thing to do here in Minnesota. So that first year, Jim and I hopped in the car and drove out to the fair to see what it was all about.

On that first visit we didn’t really check a map and headed north to see what there was to see.  It seems the northern part of the state fair is where the farm equipment is displayed.  I’d never seen so many tractors in my life, and was in awe of the size and variety of tractors and tillers available.  Being a city girl, I didn’t even know what a lot of the stuff was used for!  It was a real eye-opener for me, knowing that I truly was in the heart of farm country.  We also got to see some of of the logging equipment in use, classic cars and tractors and the dog show.  It wasn’t until we started to get hungry that we ventured over to the south end of the fair.

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Bastille Dog

Bastille Dog

This sweet dog was hanging out with his people yesterday at the Bastille Day block party at Barbette in Minneapolis, MN. Pit bull terriers really get a bad rap, and this guy was the perfect example of how sweet they can be. Just look at that smile!

Another Year Older

Cupcakes!

On Sunday I turned 33. I’m getting to the age where birthdays start to seem bittersweet – it’s great to celebrate another year of life, but at the same time I know my years are limited. I realize I don’t know how many years I’ll get, but I know it’s not all that likely to be more than 100, and I’ve already used a third of that. It’s wondrous but frightening at the same time.

Jim gave me a really sweet card listing some cute and quirky reasons that I should be really glad to be 33. It was really nice of him to notice that I wasn’t really thrilled about it and to write such sweet and cheerful things to me; he could have just given me a store-written card. It might seem silly but those words mean more to me than an expensive gift.

Am I happy with how I’ve spent the last 33 years? In a lot of ways I am. I’ve had a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve always valued the experience more than having something to show for my time, and I’ve had some really great experiences. I’m happy with who I am, and with the direction that I’m headed, and I’m learning a little about myself, and life, every day. That seems like a pretty good place to be at 33.

Tomato Travels, or Where’d You Get That Cow?

Tomatoes

A few weeks ago I read this New York Times article about major brands marketing their foods as local to the area where they are either grown or processed, and it got me thinking about what shopping and eating “local” means to me. If I shop at Target, which is headquartered here in Minneapolis, is this shopping local? Or do the goods AND the services have to be here? What about buying Mexican tomatoes at the local food coop? Is this more or less “local” than buying locally grown tomatoes at Whole Foods?

Ultimately, how we each define “local” is up to each of us. For me, I look for locally grown foods and have a preference for smaller farms that use sustainable practices. I prefer grass-fed beef from a local ranch, milk from local grass-fed cows, and organic fruits and veggies from local small farms. But if I can’t find what I’m looking for, or the local organics are out of season, then I have to start making choices. In the winter I choose locally grown hothouse tomatoes over the organic imported varieties. I also shop at Whole Foods over the local coops, and this works for me because I use less gas by driving to fewer locations (yes, I know I should ride my bike, and I’m going to work on that for trips with fewer items) and our Whole Foods stocks a lot of the locally grown meats and produce.

But what about the bigger brands? General Mills is headquartered just outside of Minneapolis. Do their products count as local? For me, I have to say no, and yes. From an ecological standpoint, no, because I know that they’re shipping in raw ingredients from all over the world; the food is not entirely locally grown and quite a large amount of fossil fuels are being used to get all those ingredients to MN. But from an economic standpoint, I know when I’m buying General Mills products I’m helping my neighbors to keep their jobs, and that’s important too.

If you’re a non-vegan in MN and haven’t tried Thousand Hills Cattle beef or Cedar Summit Farms milk, you should check them out. Grass-fed is the best!  We’ve also got great farmer’s markets for locally grown fruits and vegetables – my favorite is the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market under the freeway near the North Loop in Minneapolis.  It’s open every weekend day in the summer.

If you’re outside of Minnesota and would like to find local farmers and ranchers near you, check out Sustainable Table’s Eat Well Guide.

So, So Sweet!

Honeycakes

There’s something about warm weather that makes me crave sweets. I’ve gotten a little out of control lately, having dessert after lunch and dinner and taking afternoon trips to the local bakeries for fudge brownies and lemon squares, so I’ll be abstaining for a while to break the habit. But of course that doesn’t mean I can’t look… and photograph!