The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 14, 2014

County fair means more than location

The Mankato Free Press

---- — As I like to recall it now, it was indeed a blue ribbon I won with my patented homemade brownies. Digging through old boxes of hit and miss accomplishments instead may reveal that it was in-fact a “thanks for trying” conciliation ribbon afforded to participants but I will nonetheless bask in the supposition that my brownies where the very best in all of Blue Earth County.

As a member of the Judson Peg-Away 4-H Club, my responsibility was not to be the club baker; rather I, along with the likes of Paul “Dusty” Adermann, Matt “Helmer” Hudson and others where pressed to lead our chapter past powerhouses such as the Cambria Climbers, Kato Klippers or our arch-nemesis, the New Horizons at the annual 4-H Club Blue Earth County Fair “brawl to end it all” softball tilt.

It is interesting to me in retrospect to reflect on how much enjoyment I have received at our county fair. I have missed perhaps a few fairs over the past 35 years or so, usually because of some conflict. It is not the Bruce Springsteen penned angst of “Glory Days” that beckon me back to that field canvassed by spectacular oak trees near the river, it is the deep seeded feeling I have toward the many people and families who helped shape the prisms and contexts through which I see much of life; people I often associate with “the fair.”

There is something special about life on the farm to me. The commitment and structure I admire greatly with an increasingly vanishing world of the “family farm” have been on exhibit for all who would go to the fair. Perhaps had I not spent many hot summer days pulling cockleburs, detasseling corn and baling hay, I may not be so contemplative about this but the facts are that some of the most level-headed, earnest and wise people I have had the pleasure to encounter are direct descendants of those who have owned or themselves own bib overalls.

Granted, the fair is about more than livestock, fowl, rabbits, vegetables and baked goodies but for as long as I can recall, a Meshke has had an award winning sheep to show and I have been assured to run into old friends. That is the lasting impression I will have of the Blue Earth County Fair, whether in its present location or in a new home.

The well-publicized financial constraints and lower than desired numbers of attendees in recent years can be tied to a number of factors and I appreciate those who have worked very hard to maintain this worthy endeavor. If I possessed the capacities of the Pied Piper, I would be pleased to beckon one and all to make the short drive to the beautiful grounds to partake. I realize this would help greatly with the issues the fair has had to deal with and unfortunately, no such easy solution exists.

Garden City’s historical relationship to Mankato is important and extensive; much more than I realized after being introduced by the Blue Earth Historical Society to a 50 page narrative entitled “The Remarkable Men of Garden City,” written by E. Winston Grundmeier.

This book highlights 10 very special people, some of whom became titans of industry and their voyage from the Village of Garden City to helping build the very foundation of Mankato’s relationship with agriculture and prosperity. Their influences did more than help put Mankato on the map; they were among the stalwarts who propelled Minnesota into a land of progress, opportunity and forward vision.

This is what I believe the true value of the fair to be, a time to congeal, laugh and socialize while being introduced (or re-introduced) to the evolution of our part of the world, from conflict, uncertainty and perseverance to a well-positioned area that holds many of the good attributes associated with the modern world, including cultural and educational offerings.

It is also an opportunity to connect with the physical world, to better understand how one of the principal staples of life — food — evolves from a seed or newborn to our dinner plate. The purity of this process can be as enriching as Renoir’s “La danse à la campagne,” Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or a late game heroic by Kirby Puckett.

I probably never thought of it this way over the years when I was throwing baseballs for stuffed animals, eating fair food or conversing with exhibitors, but in the context of an ever-changing landscape within agriculture itself and the world of social-media, convenience and “bigger and better” things to do with one’s time and money, I like to think I understand why its survival is so important to many.

Shady Oaks is a beautiful place, home to our get-together for over 150 years. Should a new location closer to the population density come to fruition perhaps opportunities to incorporate a different type of fair that will resonate with newer goers will materialize.

The fair is yet another example of something we have generationally looked after and as we drift further away from the lore of those remarkable 10 men of Garden City, perhaps amongst all of the uncertainty and emotions related to this will emerge a new commitment, irrespective of the physical location, toward the institution of the fair.

I wish to thank all who have placed considerable thought, time and money into the discussion of the future of the fair as well as their dedication to past fairs. I have certainly received my money’s worth over the years and look forward hopefully to many more, whether a few miles one way from my home or another.

Eric Anderson is mayor of Mankato.