State fairs: Livestock, music, food on a stick

State fairs are one of the great U.S. summertime traditions.

Just ask Don Greiman. He’s been going to the Iowa State Fair since just after he was born — 89 years ago.

Greiman said state fairs started in the mid-1800s because farmers wanted to have a gathering to show off their produce and livestock each year. Farmers who raised cows, for example, wanted to see how their cows compared to the cows of their neighbors.

Over time, state fairs evolved into bigger events. Much bigger events.

Today, some state fairs average over 100,000 visitors per day. The nation’s most popular fairs attract almost 2 million visitors each year.

State fairs typically run for a little more than a week between August and October. They offer exhibits of arts and crafts, live music, games and rides. Some have wine tastings, beer gardens or competitions to see who can bake the tastiest cake or make the best sculpture out of butter.

People ordering food at Mini Donuts stand (© AP Images)
Food is a main attraction at state fairs, including mini-doughnuts at the Illinois State Fair. (© AP Images)

Above all, state fairs have a lot of interesting food.

Jim Hasbrouck is known as the deep-fried guy at the New York State Fair. He sells fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fried pickles, fried jellybeans, fried candy bars and even fried lasagna.

At the Texas State Fair, Abel Gonzales offers fried butter. Yes, fried butter, which is a sweet square of butter that is rolled in batter, then fried. The result is something like a bite-sized bread roll, with the butter already melted inside.

Or consider a bucket of chocolate chip cookies at the state fair in Minnesota or a pork chop on a stick at the fair in Iowa.

“We have 72 foods on a stick now, that seems to be the rage,” said Greiman of Iowa. “Corn dogs, butter on a stick, Oreos on a stick.”

“You name it, we’ve just about got it on a stick.”

Entertainers attract a lot of people to state fairs. Jason Derulo will perform at the Iowa State Fair, Bruce Hornsby at the New York State Fair, and Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato will sing at the Minnesota State Fair.

At their core, state fairs aim to bring people together for a few days of fun.

The state fair is a way for “our city cousins to look at the animals, because they don’t have the opportunity to see them every day like we do. To try different food than usual — not everybody has a corn dog or butter on a stick,” Greiman of Iowa says. “There’s something at the fair you can’t see every day.”