Soaking up the Minnesota State Fair

Things to do at the Miinnesota State Fair
Lumberjack competitions are popular with Minnesota State Fair visitors.

Audibles are part of the game in football, but what about when the fair gods decide the day you’re going to the Minnesota State Fair that it’s a good day for rain? Well, I guess you make sure to have a jacket or poncho and a favorite ball cap on, because that’s the only way you’re going to navigate your way around the fairgrounds for eight hours.

Plus…plus…Sweet Martha’s Cookies. A warm chocolate chip cookie (or 48) will energize anyone to take on the rain and have a great day at the fair. Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar is a Minnesota State Fair icon. Selling cookies for about 40 years at the St. Paul event, Martha Rossini Olson has created a cult following. Friends and family are among the 600 or so employees who spend the fair’s 12 days preparing and selling the cookies.

Minnesota State Fair
Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar has been spreading cookie love at the state fair for almost four decades.

Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar started in 1979 after Olson failed to get a permit to sell frozen yogurt during the state fair. When she and her partners came back with a request to sell cookies, well, the rest is history.

Sweet Martha’s team bakes about 190,000 cookies an hour each day. Fair goers recognize the plastic bucket used to keep the cookies. To ensure the 48 or so warm chocolate chips don’t fall out, the bucket’s lid is perfectly positioned to support the cookies. A cooking sheet provides enough cookies for a bucket.

So, what do you do with a bucket of cookies? You can share them with friends. You can also munch on them as you tour the rest of the Minnesota State Fair. As you enjoy a warm cookie from the bucket, rain or drizzle won’t faze you. You stroll along the fairgrounds, taking in the sights and sounds of one of the nation’s largest state fairs. Regardless of precipitation (it rained on and off throughout the day), more than 158,000 people visited the fair the day we were there.

Sweet Martha's Cookies at the Minnesota State Fair
Sweet Martha’s cookies bring out the smiles of fair goers.

Math On-A-Stick?

The state fair is proud of all of its food on sticks, but what about education on a stick? Math On-A-Stick strives to help educate children about the benefits of math without preaching to them. Christopher Danielson explained how Math On-A-Stick helps kids with math by having them play with math items shaped in geometric forms or animal shapes. There’s even a walking path with each block numbered. Guests, such as teacher Annie Perkins, share their math knowledge with youngsters. Perkins used balloons during her presentation.

Math on-a-stick at the Minnesota State Fair
Children play with shapes without realizing they’re learning math.

Since fairs are about attractions, we sought out a show featuring lumberjacks and lumberjills. Two teams competed in a series of lumber-related events, including log sawing, pole climbing and log rolling. The athletes – that’s the best way to describe them – showed their competitive nature as none of them wanted to lose their events.

Lumberjack show at the Minnesota State Fair
Lumberjacks raced to the top of a pole and back to the ground.

Taking in the rides

Fairs are about rides, right? The Minnesota State Fair has the nation’s largest traveling Ferris wheel as an anchor ride. The gondola-style Ferris wheel takes riders about 15 stories into the sky.  It’s nearly impossible not to see it from anywhere around the fair. We used it as a directional marker during our fair travels.

Largest traveling ferris wheel at the Minnesota State Fair
The giant Ferris wheel is popular with visitors.

Kids lined up for a chance to ride on the swings. It always impresses/scares me how much people love riding on something connected by a chain. We had a dog once that could break his chains, so while it’s an impressive to see, there is absolutely no way – or enough money in the world – to get me on this ride. I’m not even a fan of a kiddie roller coaster. LOL.

Rides at the Minnesota State Fair
You tell them to hang on while riding the swings, but kids will be kids.

So, while I leave stories about fair rides to others, Lisa and I continued exploring the Minnesota State Fair. Minnesota, as a state, seems to be more “green” than others are. The fair and its partner Minnesota Pollution Control Agency share information about caring for the environment at Eco Experience. The exhibits at this building highlight the importance of recycling, reducing carbon emission and water in our lives. Visitors can look at electric cars among the exhibits. A volunteer and I discussed the growing popularity with electric-powered vehicles. He recalled how some people wanted to debate electricity’s “attack” on fossil fuels. Viewpoints have changed over the years, he added.

Learning about environment friendly options at Eco Experience at Minnesota State Fair
Paul Bunyan – whose outfit was made from donated clothes – encourages people to recycle, reuse and donate.

Art and the written word

Moving from the beauty of a clean environment, we looked at the beauty of art. The Fine Arts Building – yes, the state fair has a building dedicated to just art – featured art from around Minnesota. Each piece was magnificent, from oil paintings to contemporary art featuring a figure made from bubble gum wrappers to a tiger’s head created from origami. My favorite piece may have been “I am Minnesota,” which displayed state icons in the shape of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Ox.

Art in the Fine Arts Building at the Minnesota State Fair
“I am Minnesota” features state attractions in the design of Paul Bunyan and Babe.

Having been a journalist – and someone who believes he treats travel blogging/writing as journalism – I had to visit the Newspaper Museum. Observing its 30th year at the Minnesota State Fair, the museum displays working presses, as well as an editor’s office exhibit.

Newspaper Museum at the Minnesota State Fair
A man tries to figure out what happened during a press stoppage. This used to be a common occurrence back in the day.

Food on a stick and more

All this walking – a total of 6.5 miles for the day – and sightseeing had to work up an appetite, you ask. Yes, it did. We received conflicting recommendations – try a Pronto Pup corn dog. Don’t try a Pronto Pup corn dog. Well, being the investigative reporter that I dreamed of being, having watched “Lou Grant” and “All the President’s Men,” I ordered a Pronto Pup for Lisa and me. After all, it has been a fair legend since 1947. With its tag as “A Banquet on a Stick,” I found it to be tasty. The batter had a slightly sweet taste.

The Pronto Pups at the Minnesota State Fair
Pronto Pups are tasty corndogs and a fair icon.

Other people suggested trying a corndog. Later in the day, I tried a corndog. It was good, too. The batter was typical of a corndog, featuring cornmeal. It had the regular taste of a corndog. In the end, though, I appreciated having tried the Pronto Pup and its sweet batter. You can’t go wrong with either choice.

So, what goes with a corndog? Wine? Maybe, if you like wine. Why not? Actually, we did sample wine as part of a group of bloggers meeting at the Wine Country concession. We sampled wines from Winehaven from Chisago City (a few miles north of the Twin Cities) and St. Croix in Stillwater. Both wineries produce excellent wines. I’m a white wine guy when I do drink it, but I’ve ventured to try red wines. While still a white wine fan, the reds each winery provided were decent tasting.

Wine flights and food at Wine Country at the Minnesota State Fair
Wine flights are served on trays shaped like the state.

We also sampled some of the food available at the Minnesota Wine Country stand. Cheese rounds and fried kale dipped in Siracha sauce were delicious. Lisa tried the salmon and shrimp sliders and fried brie on-a-stick. She liked her choices.

Animal watching

As with any state fair, you must visit the animal buildings. We walked among cattle resting and eating in the Cattle Building. Among the cutest things I saw during the fair was a cow resting its head on another cow as they lay in the hay. The second item was a girl petting and caressing her cow while they both relaxed in a stall. She caressed the cow along its neck, just as I do with our cats. The cow seemed to enjoy it. Now, I will probably have those images in my head the next time I order a steak and try to eat it.

Cows in the Cattle Barn at the Minnesota State Fair
Relaxing bovine style.

Baby farm animals were being born or cared for during our visit to the birth center. Baby goats, chicks and ducklings attracted hundreds of people during our visit. We made our way to the center of the building, where a sow had just delivered about a dozen babies. Each piglet tried to find its way to mom’s nipples so it could start eating and taking in her milk. Watching the miracle of birth is an amazing event.

Birthing Center at Minnesota State Fair
Piglet feeding time.

Ag art

The Agriculture Building housed several attractive exhibits, ranging from state fruit to crop art. Among the crop art were images of Minnesota native and music star Prince and Lt. Uhura of “Star Trek” fame.

Crop Art of Prince in Ag Building at Minnesota State Fair
Minnesota artist Prince created as crop art.

Farmers explained the process of creating honey and showed bees working on a honeycomb. One of my favorite displays featured flowers, including exhibits highlighting stories such as “Alice in Wonderland.”

Floral displays in the Ag building at the Minnesota State Fair
A floral display at the ag building.

Dairy treats

Visitors can’t leave the fair without stopping at the Dairy Building for a couple of treats. Malts and sundaes top the list of ice cream to try. Lisa ordered the Flavor of the fair – Pie in the Sky. The sundae featured crunchy spiced cookie, lemon curd and dark chocolate drizzle mixed with vanilla ice cream. I had a strawberry malt, which consisted of strawberries mixed with vanilla ice cream.

Flavor of the Fair - Pie in the Sky in the Dairy Barn at the Minnesota State Fair
My strawberry malt was delicious.

We enjoyed our ice cream treats while watching an artist carve a bust of a fair princess out of butter in 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The artist and her model worked on a rotating stage inside a cooler. Butter busts – each weighing 90 lbs. – are made of Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her court during the 12-day event.

Butter Princesses in the Dairy Barn at the Minnesota State Fair
An artist works on her latest creation with a butter princess finalist.

All told, we had a fun day at the Minnesota State Fair, rain or shine. If you come prepared for the weather, attending any event can be fun. Lisa and I have discussed attending the fair again, but next time we would plan to soak up the atmosphere over a couple of days.

The Minnesota State Fair continues its run through Labor Day, Sept. 4. It’s a great event to visit and experience. In addition, if you want to stay nearby, check out the hotels in Roseville, which is only minutes from the state fair. The fair has a fantastic transportation system in place where you ride transit buses to specific drop off locations. From there, call your hotel and have its shuttle pick you up. That’s what we did, staying at the Courtyard by Marriott in Roseville.

We recommend visiting the Minnesota State Fair. Oh, by the way, the weather forecast for the area through Labor Day calls for temperatures in the mid- to upper-70s and mostly dry conditions. Enjoy your time at the Minnesota State Fair.

For additional information on the Minnesota State Fair and area attractions, please visit or

Disclaimer: Thank you to the Roseville visitors bureau for the accommodations and state fair tickets. However, all opinions and views are ours.