The State Fair: Devotees of All Descriptions

“If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family
in the world, all you have to do is go to a state fair.
Because five minutes at the fair, you’ll be going,
‘You know, we’re alright. We are dang near royalty.'”
–Jeff Foxworthy

A beauty queen and a prize-winning pig, a 167 pound watermelon, murals made of corn, basketball-size rabbits, earless goats, 3-D quilts, Chinese acrobats, and diving dogs; ahhh yes – let’s all go to the Kentucky State Fair.

Van Gogh Cake
Even Vincent Van Gogh would be impressed with this inspired and creative cake.

It’s that time of year and all over America city slickers like me are visiting local fairs to rediscover their agricultural roots. These fun fairs are pure Americana and a celebration of everyday life and the camaraderie of healthy competition.

Angora Giant Buck
This bountiful bunny lives up to his name: Angora Giant Buck. ‘Nuff said.

Ribbons, plaques, and trophies are awarded in an incredible variety of categories such as livestock, jams and jellies, handicrafts, cakes, quilts, seed art, country hams, and even the best crowing rooster. Of course fairs are corny, and that’s exactly why we love them.

We'd only read about burgers served on glazed donuts. We thought it was urban myth!
We’d only read about burgers served on glazed donuts. We thought it was urban myth! Photo by Chris Kuehl via Wikimedia Commons

The exhibits and shows are entertaining, educational and sometimes hilarious, but fair-going is hungry work. Not to worry. The enticing smells of burgers, corn dogs, and taters of all descriptions wafting through the air cast a net and reel in the hungry. In addition to the usual fare, there’s the opportunity to indulge in the the latest unhealthy food craze: a donut burger. Weighing in at 1500 fat and sugar-soaked calories, the American Heart Association must certainly have this recipe on its bad-to-the-max list: a beef patty, cheese, and bacon sandwiched between two glazed donuts. Honestly, I was afraid to try it. Not because it was weird but because I thought I might like it.

Bevy of Beauties
The Queens take time out for a chat before the serious beauty business begins.

According to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, there are over 3200 fairs each year in North America and attendance is booming. So finding a fair near you isn’t an excuse. Get out there and go to your local fair! I promise a few good chuckles, a smile-inducing day, and the opportunity to rub elbows with devotees of all descriptions.

Did your local fair have a wacky sight that you enjoyed? We’d love to hear about it.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

Country ham is taken seriously in the South – sort of a poor man’s prosciutto.


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

60 thoughts

  1. This post is a feast, FEAST, for this fair lover! I’m in Tel Aviv (for a month now!) visiting my daughter and welcoming my first grand baby! One of the only downfalls, is that I missed our fair. I’ve gone every year… it made seeing your fabulous photos that much more wonderful!

    1. Congrats on #1 grand baby Dawn. That probably makes it worth missing the fair, and I’m sure that your daughter loves having you there. Actually, this was our first fair in a few years and it was great fun. I had forgotten how much cool stuff there was to see. We spent a long day there and came home exhausted. ~James

  2. Fair season is just now ramping up here.There are 2 or 3 we always try to get to. Labor Day weekend, we always go to the Hopkinton Fair. A day full of farm animals, fair food and a night of demolition derby fun! Since we go every year, we have favorite food vendors we buy from (it just isn’t a trip to the fair until you’ve had a Sam, Joe & Ed’s Italian sausage!!)

    1. A demolition derby … you lucky dog. I haven’t seen a demo derby in decades. These were a big deal when I was growing up and I loved them. I can still hear the noise and see the hanging bumpers and bashed out headlights. Have a great time. ~James

  3. Aw, as soon as I saw the Kentucky sign I wished KFC would bring back its great old bean salad they phased out in Australia probably 25 years ago and I still miss it. Go figure!

    1. Too bad about the bean salad Ina. Maybe you could find a KFC copycat recipe online. KFC has started a new ad campaign here in the States, and they have an actor that looks exactly like the Colonel. And FYI, I grew up about 50 miles from the Colonel’s first chicken store, which was actually a petrol station. ~James

    1. Lynne, it’s always fun to walk through the 4H section at the fair. This year my personal prize went to the kid with a framed explanation of the geology of the Cinicinnati Arch, which was complete with hand drawn cross-section and rock samples. What he lacked in artistic skill was more than compensated for by his obvious enthusiasm. ~James

  4. I never missed the annual Medicine Hat Stampede and Exhibition when I lived there. Always a fun time for the entire family. We have medieval fairs here in Spain which are also fun. Iberian hams are a prized item here!

    1. And in addition to all the usual fair stuff, I’m sure that a big part of the stampede was a huge rodeo. We sampled a number of delicious Serrano hams on our last trip to Spain. I was amazed at how expensive some of the hams were. In the southern US country ham isn’t cheap, but some of the prices I saw in Spain were in the stratosphere. ~James

    1. I suspected that you and Terri were fair folk LuAnn. When we’re on the road in the US, anytime we’re close to a state fair we go. The commonalities are usually there, but it’s also interesting to see the regional differences. And if you try a donut burger let me know. I’ll award the a Gallivance Gold Star and post your review as an addendum to this post. 😉 ~James

    1. Anita, there were lots and lots of quilts in the competition, and all were very well done, as you can imagine in a state competition. And the chicken and donut burger were new for me. The chicken cooperated nicely and stood still while I snapped his photo. ~James

  5. “Honestly, I was afraid to try it. Not because it was weird but because I thought I might like it.” – HAHAHAHA. At first it looked disgusting, but as lunch approaches, I am interested.

    That Jeff Foxworthy quote is so true. A website in Oklahoma City runs a state fair photo contest each year. It is a little mean because the people depicted are, how do I say…interesting? But it is also hilarious.

    1. Jeff, if my waistline allowed it, I would have gone for a donut burger. It falls into my “what’s not to like” category: burger, check, cheese, check, bacon, check, donuts, double check. I’m not sure what the joker who put the lettuce in there was thinking. ~James

  6. What is with all of those hams James? Do they sell them? Is it a contest? Not too many fairs in these parts. The Calgary Stampede I suppose is like a fair on steroids and certainly some interesting food choices such as cockroach pizza.

    1. Sue, the hams, like most other things at the fair, are a judged competition, and as far as I know, aren’t for sale. I had never seen so many hams in one place and it was all pretty interesting. There were the “smoked” and “non-smoked” categories, and some of the hams were 15 years-old! As I said, they take their cured hams seriously in these parts … much like the cockroach pizza up your way. 🙂 ~James

  7. As part of my job I have to introduce American culture to the locals, and state fairs are one of the things I bring up. Without a proper chance to explain them the things I show people tends to make them gawk, but then again, the more I show them the more they gawk!

    1. Brittany, I’d never thought of it, but a state fair is an excellent example of a cross-section of American culture. It demonstrates what’s important in our work lives as well as leisure, our hobbies, government, and of course our favorite music and foods. But given the complexities I can see that, as a teacher, how it would be difficult to explain. I’m sure that your students’ questions must make you laugh sometimes. ~James

      1. I’m not an English teacher in schools, so usually it’s the occasional mention during a lecture in Japanese to adults. Perhaps the question I get most often is “is this real?!”
        More often, however, I find myself mentioning it to my coworkers and then we wind up looking up photos of things like donut burgers. That sort of sounds amazing, and I’m afraid I’d like it too much too…

  8. I went to the Indiana State Fair a few weeks ago. I loved the food (especially the grilled Swiss on Rye at the Dairy Barn!), the 4-H exhibits created by kids I know, the biggest pig, and the atmosphere of pride this fair provides. I was a bit alarmed that a very Senior Citizen stopped me and said people my age or older could purchase a wristband that would entitle me to unlimited rides around the fair on the tram. The offer itself wasn’t alarming – it was the fact that I couldn’t sprint fast enough to make this purchase!

    1. Anita, I haven’t been to the Indy Fair, but I suspect that it’s a good deal like the KY Fair except with northern accents, and fewer hams (the food not the people). 🙂 Terri tells me that she went to the fair with that famous Indy 4H-er Gayle, which involved lots of ribbons and trophies. I’m sure that would have been a hoot. BTW has school started there yet? Given all those snow days, I’m sure you have to start early, so I’m sure that you’re very busy. Let me know how the Rumsey Maps work out in class. Love to all north of the Ohio and best of luck in the new school year. ~James

  9. Oh, how I love the NC State Fair in the autumn! It’s so crazy, weird, and such a fun tradition. I suppose it’s actually just a nostalgic thing, if I really think about it. But, thanks for reminding me of such wonderful memories.

    1. We didn’t make it to the NC State Fair Liz, but I can imagine with such diversity in the state that it’s a good one. But honestly, I don’t think that I’ve been to a bad one. In our travels around the US, we’ve managed to hit quite a few and they’re all fun. Terri and I were just wondering if the Colorado State Fair will have entries for the best weed this year? It’s a legitimate agricultural product. 🙂 ~James

      1. Haha! What a valid point! ! How wonderful would it be to travel around across the U.S. visiting state fairs?! 🙂

    1. Dorothy, I loved the seed mural as well. It really was amazing, and the photo doesn’t do it justice. It must have been 6ftX8ft and it was incredibly detailed. It took an artistic eye as well as a good deal of patience to pull it off. ~James

  10. All of that was very interesting, except for the burger on glazed doughnuts, which was frankly terrifying.

    Incidentally, I was interested to see that huge fluffy ball in your third picture. Is it true there’s a rabbit in there somewhere? (I’m not sure whether to believe the rumors.)

    1. Thanks for the comment Bun and for dropping by the blog. Unless there was some serious slight of hand going on, there was most definitely a big bunny under all that fur. My first thought was what it would look like soaking wet … probably a squirrel. Anyway, the judges liked the buck, and deservedly, her won first prize. Ahh, the joys of a state fair. ~James

      1. Ha! I hadn’t thought of what would happen if it got wet. My guess is that it would become completely immobile, trapped by the sheer weight of water soaked up in that fur. The poor thing would then have to wait helplessly until someone blow-dried it to freedom.

        I’m glad the judges took notice and awarded it first prize, but also a little surprised. I thought they might simply pass the buck.

      2. Thank you. That’s a much kinder response than the one I usually get from my children — rolling about on the floor clutching their stomachs and moaning, “The pain… the pain…”

  11. That is one amazing bunny!

    I’ve only been to our (Kansas) State Fair once, but it was a lot of fun, so I need to make another visit. I did go to our county fair last year. My son has been going every year with his wife, whose father works with 4-H. He loves it. We had a discussion about funnel cakes last week. We don’t really like them, but I had to try one any way at the fair. There’s a featured flavor every year. The year I went it was Red Velvet.

    1. Cathy, it isn’t a state fair without some really good junk food. Funnel cakes have never been my favorite, but I absolutely can not resist the corn dogs. Luckily they don’t come in a box so I can’t see the calorie count. The KY state fair has finally gotten a bit more liberal than in the old days, and now they have a few beer tents with music. I love walking in the 4H section as well. The obvious youthful enthusiasm is great to see. ~James

    1. There were a number of amazing cakes at the fair. In fact, I could probably do a post just on the cakes. I’d never seen such a large collection of large, colorful, creative cakes before. Ummm, that’s an idea. Maybe I will do a post. ~James

  12. Hello to you both, thanks for stopping by and liking my blog. You have a fabulous blog and I will be entertained for weeks now catching up with your posts. The State Fair looked like a lot of fun, I loved the Angora bunny, so cute and all the yummy food made me very hungry.

    1. Thanks for the comment Gilda and for dropping by the blog. In the US, state fairs are a tradition that go back decades. As more and more Americans leave the farm life, their popularity has waxed and waned. But even if you aren’t a farmer-type, I maintain that they’re always great fun. And they’re a great excuse to indulge in some tasty junk food. ~James

  13. There is so much creativity buried in the American heartland, it boggles the mind. A new colleague where I work is building a truck for the local tractor pull circuit. It’s pretty cool, actually– all the thought that goes into it, and the chance to rub elbows with plain-speaking folk. It’s a good reminder life needn’t be too complex, and is actually quite complex all on it’s own without our modern toys and contrivances!


    1. Thanks for the comment Michael and for dropping by the blog. Well said and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always had a healthy respect for and have been envious of handy, creative people. My father was a child of the depression so he grew up learning how to get things done with what was at hand. His solutions weren’t always attractive to look at, but by golly, they worked. Of course, I didn’t appreciate it at the time, because he was just my Dad and that’s how it was. But looking back, I realize that he was a master at improvisation. A good skill for anyone I reckon. ~James

    1. Marilyn, this chicken looked like something out of Dr. Seuss, and strangely, he stood perfectly still so I could get his (or her) photo. As I said, we love fairs and local festivals and catch them whenever we can. Lots of people pour lots of creativity into their entries and it’s great to see. ~James

  14. So after winning melon of the year award or whatever, what would you approach that watermelon with? I’m thinking either a chain saw or an axe. Probably be enough for most of the people at the fair to get some.

    1. I’m not sure Ken, but that’s a great question. I’ve seen pumpkins that weigh 400 lbs, and I wonder how they deal with that. But you know, these farm boys are inventive types, and at least big vegetables aren’t squirming as say, a prize winning pig would be. 🙂 ~James

  15. Village fetes and fairs used to be big over here but sadly not so much any more. We used to have the annual Southampton Show on the Common. I once won a prize for a crocheted hat (I was about ten).

    1. Marie, it varies by region here in the US, but most places still have something going on in early spring and autumn. Local governments have finally figured out what a positive element fairs are for community spirit and marketing for the town. It’s a good idea for lots of reasons, but ultimately it comes down to an active community and a willingness to work out the details. And they really are fun, even if I don’t win a crocheted had contest. 🙂 ~James

    1. Pam, in addition to the food, the critters are one of the highlights of any fair. Anywhere around the baby animals of any type are always crowded. There was a huge mama pig and her 12 piglets that were too cute. ~James

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