How The State Fair Gave Us The Best And Worst Day Ever

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Lucille Barrett
Lucille Barrett
Future teen idol. Hardcore tv lover. Social media guru. Zombie aficionado. Travel scholar. Biker, shiba-inu lover, audiophile, Mad Men fan and proud pixelpusher. Working at the junction of minimalism and elegance to answer design problems with honest solutions. I'm fueled by craft beer, hip-hop and tortilla chips.

It all started with the 15-foot-tall sunflower. My four-year-old planted it this spring. It grew so tall that it towered over the back garden, casting a long shadow across the yard. The kids dubbed it “the beanstalk sunflower” and fantasized about climbing it into the clouds.

They were so proud of that sunflower that a thought occurred to me. Would it be possible to enter it into the Minnesota State Fair? Don’t they hold special competitions for children? They do, but none were quite appropriate to our purpose. You can win a prize for massive sunflower heads, but not for super-tall plants. I suppose 15-foot sunflowers present something of a challenge when hosting a display.

My research time was not wasted, however. Some other ideas began to germinate. Why not enter some of my own vegetables into the fair? I love my vegetable garden. I love the state fair. What was there to lose?

There was no charge to enter the amateur gardening contests. Entries also came with a tantalizing perk: as an exhibitor, I could get free parking right on the fairgrounds. If you’ve ever juggled four small kids and a double stroller on a park-and-ride shuttle bus, you can understand why that put it over the top.

I registered. A week before the fair, my official parking passes and exhibit tags arrived in the mail. We were doing this.

Going For Blue

On the morning of the fair, I woke up at 6 a.m., packed up my exhibits, and drove to the fairgrounds. Feeling like a rock star, I parked in the official Ag-Hort parking lot, waltzed right through the gate, and checked in my entries.

The set-up was really quite fun. The agricultural pavilion was bustling with people bringing their enormous pumpkins, boxes of apples, gorgeous flower displays, and giant sunflower heads, along with homemade jams, wines, honey, and the like. It was a giant harvest festival, and I was part of the action. On that morning, it felt perfect to be a Minnesotan, celebrating the many fine things that are built, grown, or created with Minnesotan hands.


Also, I was pleased with my entries. My tomatillos were bursting with freshness, still wet with morning dew, and packed with the trademark tomatillo tang. The red potatoes were somewhat less spectacular but were entered anyway because they were my children’s pride and joy. Who could tell eager children their starchy trophies weren’t up to snuff?

The true prize, though, was my ornamental gourds. Even as a novice, I was confident in that entry. I love gourds for their interesting shapes and bright colors, so watching these beauties flower and develop is really one of the pleasures of summer. The night before the fair, I chose my best eight and lovingly arranged them in a wicker basket. If any of our entries claimed a ribbon, I was sure it would be the gourds.

Setting up, I realized, to my surprise, that I actually wanted a ribbon. It didn’t have to be blue. I had mostly entered on a lark, but my kids (who help out in the garden all summer long) would think it was seriously cool to bring home a bona fide state fair ribbon. Bring it home for us, ornamental gourds!

The Best of Times

We got our ribbon. Actually, we got three. My kids’ potatoes placed fourth, much to their delight. Meanwhile, my tomatillos and gourds both took third in their respective categories. I am officially an award-winning Minnesota gardener.

The kids were pretty thrilled, but it was fun to see the pavilion packed with admiring spectators on top of that. My prize vegetables even won me some cold, hard cash, to the tune of eleven dollars. Put away your wallet, friend. That corn dog is on me.

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