I may have cried when they handed me a Pronto Pup.

I’m not originally from Minnesota. But years before I moved here, I’d scan article after article every summer, looking at the new food items released for the Minnesota State Fair. It was on my bucket list to visit once.

Since I’ve moved to Minnesota, I’ve made it a point to go four times every summer. Every year, I seem to go with new people. I’ve taken Brazilian friends to my favorite place to get hard cider (Giggles Campfire Grill) and ran into friends that I know from Jerusalem while walking through the Midway. There’s something about the food, the people, the atmosphere that makes Minnesota feel like more than my adopted-home during the Fair’s two-week run. It starts to feel like a truer version of home. Maybe it’s because, at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, I don’t have to say, “Oh, I’m from here, but I’ve landed here,” or “I moved from here, but we’re planning on staying.” I’m just a Minnesotan.

A bag of Tom Thumb mini-donuts
A sweet little piece of the State Fair.

As COVID-19 began to shutter businesses and pushed us indoors in March, in the back of my mind, I kept thinking, “Oh no. What’s going to happen to the State Fair this summer?” As each upcoming event began to fold or beckon us to come back in 2021, I said to myself, “I will cry when they cancel the State Fair.”

And when that fateful day finally arrived, I did shed a few tears, but there was so much going on in Minneapolis and across Minnesota with the police killing of George Floyd and the uprising that the State Fair felt like an afterthought. But all the pain and trauma of this summer – as much as it was needed to move us all forward – made me miss old comforts even more in a world on fire.

But then miracle of miracles, the State Fair announced a FOOD PARADE. And I felt a small glimmer – an excitement that maybe the pandemic hadn’t stolen all the gatherings in 2020, even if it was modified. After 40 minutes on three devices, I was able to get a ticket to the Food Parade – and then I convinced a few COVID-bubble friends and family to sit in a car with an overly-excited me while eating an impossible amount of food.

Two food menus for the Minnesota State Fair Food Parade.

And it was glorious. Sweet, delicious glory on sticks, in grease-stained bags, and sturdy cones and cups. I decorated the inside of the car (much to the driver’s chagrin) and passed out Minnesota State Fair crowns and buttons. Pulling into the fairgrounds, it was heartwarming to see the volunteers waving us through, smiling and laughing with us. At least, that’s what I imagined: After all, face masks were required.

A white man driving a car with
What’s the State Fair without a few decorations?

We devoured fresh French fries, overindulged in Tom Thumb’s donuts, purchased two giant tubs of cheese curds and couldn’t help ourselves from buying an entire gallon of lemonade. We craved more of the wings from West Indies Soul Food and piled buckets of Sweet Martha’s Cookies into the backseat. Even if we couldn’t stroll the wide boulevards of the fairgrounds to sample the goods, we could fill the car with the quintessential aromas of fair food.

A white girl with a mask and a crown holds a bucket of cheese curds
Mask-friendly cheese curds.

But we quickly realized how much walking helps digest all that sugar and grease. Our Tupperware started to fill up faster and faster with each stop. Powdered sugar and lemonade started to spill on to seat cushions. I looked longingly at TPT’s State Fair booth as we pulled out of the fairgrounds. I missed the people watching and the laughter. I missed the familiarity that I often find at the fair: there’s something about being in a sea of people that makes you all feel a little bit like taking care of each other when you see a baby’s shoe fall off a stroller or someone with too many corn dogs in their hands almost stumble over a curb.

White woman in a black skirt and white shirt holding a tray with ice cream malts.

It was a different send off to summer, in a year that has defied expectations. As much fun as we had at the Food Parade, it was like watching a memory of the State Fair: You get a glimpse that helps you remember what it was like, but it’s not the full picture. I’ve already marked my calendar for August 2021 and am hopeful that next year, I’ll be at the fair on foot, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow Minnesotans.

White TPT booth at the Minnesota State Fair with images of Mr. Rogers, Elmo, and other PBS characters.
Hopefully, we’ll see you open next year!

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Wondering where you can get your State Fair food fix this fall? One Greater Minnesota Reporter Kaomi Goetz visited with some food vendors to find out what they’re doing with the State Fair’s gates shuts.

Are you missing the sights and sounds of the State Fair? TPT Photographer Matt Mead wandered the 2019 Minnesota State Fair with his camera. Take a look at his photos of baby lambs, butter sculptures, and more from last year’s Great Get-Together.

In 1890, a black painter by the name of John R. White was awarded a blue ribbon at the State Fair. Black Minnesotans have been part of the State Fair since the beginning, often struggling to be treated equally inside the fairground gates.