There comes a time every year when hundreds of thousands of people gather in a space far too small to accommodate them all. This description fits many events, but no event is quite like the Iowa State Fair (I say that with all due respect to Maryland’s Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, which is happening right now).
While working for Marco Rubio’s Presidential campaign in Iowa last year, I spent countless hours roaming the state fair. The fact that this counted as “work” shows just how great it is to work in Iowa. While I am not going to make the State Fair this year, I thought it would be fun to provide a glimpse into the fair for those who have never been there.
Fried food on a stick. What does Oreos, cheese, butter, onions, Milky Ways, vegetables, and ice cream all have in common? You can get them deep friend and on a stick at the state fair. Over the year, I’ve received a lot of questions about the fried foods available, and the butter has received more than its fair share of questions. The way fried butter is made is as follows: cut a whole stick of butter in half lengthwise, spear it with a stick and cover it in batter, and drop it in a deep fryer and when it floats to the top, cover it in glaze. Serve piping hot. Once you receive it, do NOT, under any circumstances, eat the whole thing. I took a few bites so I could say that I ate it, and that was more than enough. Surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly), it was delicious. The key for any substance that you would normally think would melt (cheese, ice cream, butter) is to cover it in batter, so that it is absorbed into the breading as it fries.
The Butter Cow—this is an Iowa legend that has gone back over 100 years, and only five people have ever been bestowed with the honor to sculpt it. Every year, some of the butter is kept for next year’s cow, so it’s almost like how Tootsie Rolls supposedly contain a small part of the original Tootsie Roll. While the Butter Cow has been a staple for years, its partner in butter changes from year to year. Last year’s butter sculpture commemorated Monopoly’s anniversary, and this year celebrates Star Trek’s.
The Des Moines Register’s Soap Box—the Register’s Soap Box is a fair staple. Whenever a presidential candidate is at the fair, they give a speech at this box. The stage itself is tiny, and the crowd size is what determines the strength of the candidate. Last year, most of the audience during Lincoln Chafee’s speech consisted of people who were going to wait to hear Bernie Sanders speak later in the day. Last year, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the only two candidates to avoid the Soap Box, yet they are also the two major party nominees, so maybe it is losing some of its luster.
Voting by corn kernel—another way for candidates to test their support is to see how they do in a corn kernel poll. Although it is far from scientific, it does show the excitement for candidates. A local radio station sets up jars with the faces of all of the candidates, and passersby pick up a dried corn kernel and drop it in the jar of the candidate they want for president. I was in charge of finding the fastest route to the jar from the Soap Box last year, and Rubio’s jar was completely empty when he walked over. This was actually less awkward than it seemed, because he actually had already filled up several jars, and this was the start of a new one. In case you were wondering, Donald Trump is currently leading Hillary Clinton in kernel votes this year.
MASSIVE vegetables. Iowa is a state with a huge agricultural industry, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that its farmers have figured out how to grow vegetables that are bigger than you have ever seen before.
MASSIVE livestock. Something has to eat all of the massive vegetables, and what better way to get rid of a massive pumpkin than by feeding it to massive animals (actually, the Delaware State Fair has a very cool way to get rid of those pesky pumpkins—Pumpkin Chunkin)? You’ll regularly see animals weighing over 1,000 pounds all around the fair.
A health section on the State Fair app—seriously? What person in their right mind wants to know how bad everything at the Fair is for them? For those brave souls who do check the app, the Bloomin Onion is the least healthy option available, with each deep fried and sliced onion having well over 1,000 calories.
A ton of politicians—due to Iowa’s status as first in the nation, it is only logical for presidential candidates and their surrogates to roam around the fair (and the state as a whole).
Politicians serving you food on a stick—one of the most famous stops in the Fair is the Steak on a Stick restaurant. Every presidential candidate stops by and grills some steaks.
Politicians eating food—Rick Perry eating a hot dog is something you just can’t unsee.
Buckets of cookies—for about $20, you can get a massive bucket of mini cookies. It’s always a sight to behold when you see a little kid roaming around the fair without any supervision with a massive bucket of these.
Amazing concerts—the Fair features contemporary artists (Andy Grammar) and artists that were not expecting (Sir Mix-A-Lot). Some need tickets, and others are right in the middle of the fair. I want to focus on Sir Mix-A-Lot’s concert for a little. I am one of those people who only know his really big hits. However, he performed a ton of other songs in his concert that I didn’t know (although most of the audience also didn’t know them). Towards the end of his show, he got off the stage and walked around the crowd while singing. At the end, a bunch of people got up on the stage and danced with him, so I decided to do that as well, and got to hang out on stage with him. So, although I barely knew any of his songs, I got to be on stage with him…for free.
Corn—there is a ton of corn everywhere, and it is one of the many foods that can be found on a stick. However, you haven’t had corn until you’ve had Iowa corn. This corn is the corn of legends.
Hopefully this list gives you a sense of what actually goes on when you read about the famed Iowa State Fair in the news. A lot of people, fried food, and an all around incredible time.