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New at the State Fair: Skating on plastic, Mancini's and 'canstruction'

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Relaxing in the cattle barn
Mille Lacs County 4H participants, left to right, Laura Stobb, 16, Abigail Grimm, 13, and Brooke Christensen, 17, relax with their dairy heifers in the cattle barn at the State Fair after tidying up their space. They're judged on their herdsmanship in keeping up their area.
Jennifer Simonson

It's time once again for the "12 Days of Fun," the "Great Minnesota Get Together," that thing you do before school starts back up.

Yes, the Minnesota State Fair starts today.

Apart from whatever the newly crafted dishes of deep fried cuisine Americana this year's culinary masters have managed adhere to a stick, there are some Minnesota classics and quirky new things at this year's fair. Here are some highlights:

ICE SKATING

Technically, it's skating on plastic. But it works a lot like ice, said Mike Miller, CEO of D1 Backyard Rinks. 

"This is synthetic ice," Miller said. "It's a high density polyethylene, so high density plastic essentially. You put it on any flat surface and you can skate." 

Miller said there's no refrigeration involved. He's installed several in basements and backyards. "It feels 90 percent what regular ice would feel like," he said. "So the stakes, the strides, the cuts, the stops -- they all feel the same, you're just going to get a little extra burn in your legs."

Fair goers will have the opportunity to go skating
Minnesota State Fair goers will have the opportunity to go skating in 2013 -- not on ice, but a hard plastic surface.
Conrad Wilson

Miller charges $3 for 10 minutes of skating. And there's no need to bring ice skates to the fair. Miller said he'll have plenty of socks and skates on hand.

SMOKING ZONES

Under a new policy, visitors to the Minnesota State Fair will have to smoke in designated areas. There are 18 spots with ashtrays around the fairgrounds that are marked on State Fair maps and information kiosks. 

The new policy was prompted by concerns from fair visitors, State Fair spokeswoman Brienna Schuette said. People found smoking in non-designated areas will be directed to the nearest smoking area. As in previous years, no smoking is allowed in fairground buildings.

HONEY

A Minnesota chocolatier is hoping to help the honey bees.

Bees are responsible for pollinating much of the food we eat. But they're dying off at an alarming rate because of pesticides and other diseases. 

Susan Brown, owner of St. Paul's Mademoiselle Miel, mixed two batches of local honey that will be sold at the fair to benefit the University's of Minnesota's Bee Lab.

State Fair gates at dawn
The Minnesota State Fair gates at dawn on opening day.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

"If we don't have a healthy supply of bees the food supply that we're use to eating will diminish," Brown said. "A lot of people are wondering, 'what can I do about it?' " This year, Brown is selling 16,000 honey sticks for 50 cents a pop.

Flavors include Minnesota Gold -- a classic blossom honey -- and Smoked Scotch -- honey that's been smoked with a little Scotch whisky mixed in for good measure.

"It's a small contribution," Brown said. "But I kind of think of it as the way a beehive works. A lot of bees are gathered together. They each pitch in a little bit ... So each of us pitches in a little bit. We can help progress this important scientific work forward."

CANSTRUCTION

An international design competition is coming to the fair for the first time, after eight years at the Mall of America.  

"What we're doing is building structures out of filled cans of food that will after the event be going to Second Harvest Heartland for the food shelf," said Janet Bucholdt, an administrative associate at Cuningham Group Architecture, one of the Canstruction participants.

Architects and engineers from around the world compete to make model structures.

"All of the structures are built so that the labels will replicate what the structure's supposed to be," Bucholdt said.

For example, one of the structures is a combine with stocks of corn made out of canned corn. Another is a red barn and grain silo.

Several past winners also will be on display in the Agriculture and Horticulture building.

MANCINI'S

The iconic St. Paul Italian steak house is making its Fair debut, serving a combination of fair specials as well as some favorites from the restaurant.

Jane Mancini said they were offered the opportunity to submit a proposal for the new restaurant.

"Lo and behold we got it," Mancini said. "We were just shocked, but very thrilled and excited to be out here."

Mancini said among other offerings they'll serve their signature spumoni ice cream, steak sandwich and garlic bread.

"Our tag line is 'a family affair,' " Mancini said. "As at the restaurant, same as the fair, there will always be a Mancini on site." The Minnesota State Fair runs until Sept. 2.

MPR News reporter Brandt Williams contributed to this story.