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Who has the better state fair: Iowa or Minnesota?

4:19 PM, Aug 26, 2013   |    comments
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FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. -- Midwesterners are not programmed for bragging. It's one of our better qualities.

But all bets are off when it comes to our state fairs.

"Absolutely the best state fair," said one Minnesotan, with the certainty of someone who had been to every other state fair.

Children in the Gopher State are born knowing it's not just the "good" Minnesota get together.

So it may come as a shock to Minnesotans that one state to our south exists another state with a fair superiority complex.

"Nothing compares to the Iowa State Fair," blared the television commercials leading up to the Hawkeye State's 12-day celebration earlier this month.

For Iowa residents, it's not hyperbole.

"Well, nothing beats the Iowa State Fair," says Elisabeth Reed on Iowa fair's opening day.

At the slightest prompting, she bursts into song with her mother: "Our state fair is a great state fair, don't miss it, don't even be late."

As any Iowan can tell you, the song belongs to them, written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the Broadway musical "State Fair," based on the novel by the same name, written by an Iowan. It later became a movie too, cementing Iowa's state fair as the most iconic of them all. At least that's how Iowans see it.

Minnesota will have to concede songs, movies and Broadway plays. But how do the two state's fairs compare in other areas?

Longevity: Iowa wins by half a decade. The first Iowa State Fair was held in 1854. Minnesota got its fair act together in 1859.

Size: The nod again goes to Iowa. Located east of downtown Des Moines, the Iowa fairgrounds cover 435 acres, including a spacious campground. Minnesota's fairgrounds cover 320 acres.

Attendance: Minnesota wins by a landslide. In 2012 the Iowa State Fair attracted just shy of 1.1 million people. Minnesota's state fair pulled in nearly 1.8 million people. Only the Texas State Fair is better attended.

Food: Even several Iowans we spoke to -- who have been to both fairs -- gave the edge to Minnesota. Iowa has its fair share of food on a stick, but Minnesota's state fair has become as much about food as it is about agriculture -- maybe more so.

Iowa's signature food: Pork chop on a stick. The Iowa Pork Producers sell roughly 60,000 of them during the run of the fair. In Minnesota, Sweet Martha's Cookies are the most popular food item. Fair-goers consume 10 million of the served-hot chocolate chip cookies each year.

Politics: Even including this category could be perceived as unfair to Minnesota. Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses attract a herd of politicians with presidential aspirations. Some of them have even been elected. Seven current or future presidents have visited the Iowa state fair, though one of them, Ronald Reagan, actually did it as a young broadcaster working for WHO Radio in the 1930s. Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all made stops at the Iowa State Fair.

That said, in 1901 when Teddy Roosevelt famously said "Speak softly and carry a big stick," he did it at the fair in Minnesota.

Carved Butter: For 102 years Iowans have stood in line to pay homage to their 600 pound butter cow. It's the fair's most cherished tradition. Minnesota's state fair offers 12 princesses carved out of butter. The state's newly crowned Princess Kay of the Milky Way, Marjenna McWilliam, has a counterpoint.

"Each of ours is 90 pounds and we have 12 so if you do the math, technically, we use more butter," she says. "I've thought this through."

Big Boar: Both fairs captivate visitors to the swine barn with a "largest boar." In Minnesota this year's title went to Big Kenny, who tipped the scales at 1,045 Pounds. Otis, an Iowa Boar, was even bigger, arriving at the fair at 1,103 pounds.

In the interest of conciliation, we'll give the final say to the fair's spokespeople who say any rivalry that exists is purely fun.

"Us fair people, we're all friends," says Brienna Schuette of the Minnesota State Fair.

Lori Chappell, the spokesperson for the Iowa State Fair added, "You know they're both wonderful fairs, and truly people should visit both."

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