October 23, 2015

State fairs are changing

Stateline - The Butter Cow, a life-size statue carved of pure cream Iowa butter, has drawn fans to the Iowa State Fair for more than a century. The 600-pound bovine packs enough butter for more than 19,000 slices of toast, and would take the average person two lifetimes to eat.

But 21st century fair goers expect something more: In addition to the cow and other traditional agricultural attractions, this year’s fair featured yoga and Zumba, craft beers and gluten-free corn dogs.

To remain relevant, state fairs across the country — the latest ones will conclude this month — are going modern.

The California State Fair, for example, hosted the first U.S. National Drone Racing Championships, with 120 pilots competing for $25,000 in prizes. The drone races thrilled spectators, but they also showcased technology that can be used to monitor moisture and temperature in vineyards, track cattle and dust crops.

This year’s California fair also featured Tech Trek, an exhibit exploring how science fiction becomes science fact, with 3-D printing and robots. Also for the first time: an official fair chef. Keith Breedlove, a tattooed urban hipster and food truck entrepreneur, demonstrated cooking techniques.

In Washington, D.C., where cultivation of marijuana is now legal, the D.C. State Fair sponsored its first “Best Bud” competition, while the Indiana State Fair encouraged fairgoers to take and post a #farmerselfie with a different farm family every day of the fair. The New Mexico State Fair capitalized on the craft beer craze with an official New Mexico State Fair Beer. Organizers promoted the “tasty, cream ale” as “perfect for washing down fried foods from one of the many food vendors!”

“Two types of people come to our fair,” said Gary Slater, Iowa State Fair CEO. “Half don’t want us to change a thing, year after year. The other 50 percent say, ‘Been there, done that. Wow me somehow this year — or I won’t be back.’” European Roots

The York, Pennsylvania, fair celebrated its 250th anniversary this year. New York claims the first state fair, in 1841. About 150 million people go to fairs in the United States annually, said Jim Tucker, president of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.

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