If you're looking for trends in agriculture and consumer food tastes, what better place to visit than the Minnesota State Fair, where for over a hundred years Minnesota's farmers and foodies have been coming together.
After all, the State Fair started as an agriculture exposition back in 1859. Back then, it was held in October to accommodate the harvest. Farmers came from far and wide to learn from each other -- and see the latest ag technology.
By 1930, displays of tractors and other farm equipment took up nearly 80 acres on Machinery Hill. But as Minnesota changes, so has the fair, according to Fair archivist Keri Huber.
"The farming is not as plentiful as it used to be," said Huber. "You had the tractors, oftentimes you could ride them or at least see them in action to get a sense of how you could bring that to the farm. As the years have gone by, the dealerships were actually pulling back."
These days Machinery Hill has a lot of riding lawn mowers and ATVs -- perhaps a sign that fairgoers are more likely to have suburban lawns or hunting shacks than fields of corn.
So what else has changed at the fair? The food, of course.
In the early years, the options were few and not always good. A display at the fair's History and Heritage Center says people would bring picnic baskets rather than buy food from the vendors. By mid-century, church dining halls were all the rage.
Today, there's more food, of course. But not just any food. Amid long-time favorites like Pronto pups and cheese curds you'll find craft beer and artisanal honey.
Sharon Hannigan serves up kombucha, a fermented tea, with a side of fruit at her Produce Exchange stand across the street from the Food Building.
"We do hear the comments, like ... 'I don't come here to eat fruit!'" she says. "I laugh and say, 'I won't tell anybody, or it goes great with beer' or something."
It's Hannigan's 11th year selling fresh fruit at the fair. The rest of the year she runs the Produce Exchange in the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis. It wasn't her idea to become a fair vendor.
"The fair asked us to come sell fruit, and we did and people love it," she said.
Natural foods at the fairgrounds are a reflection of consumer tastes outside the gates.
"People go more toward what's whole, what they consider to be natural," says Alex Sadowsky, a professional chef in Texas who grew up practically in the shadow of the fairgrounds. He spent 17 years working in Fair kitchens, including stints developing menu items for Giggles Campfire Grill and the Blue Barn.
Walk through the Food Building, he pointed out one of his favorites -- wild rice burgers.
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"Oh man, it's like the most pure, like not over-the-top thing, and it's awesome," he said.
Wild rice represents something else consumers are craving: food sourced locally. Sadowsky says there's also growing interest in food that's grown in an environmentally friendly way.
It's got a ways to go, though.
"Everyone will say they're interested in sustainability, but I don't think they're ready to pay what it would cost to have true grass-fed beef that's raised in Minnesota and all produce that's raised in Minnesota," Sadowsky said. "At the fair, they're not ready for that yet."
But there are plenty of exhibitors working to get fairgoers thinking about it. The Agriculture-Horticulture Building and Eco Experience both have extensive displays on local, sustainable food systems. At Eco Experience, local chefs who seek out locally produced food do cooking demonstrations on the Sustainability Stage.
Even in the spots featuring more traditional agriculture, such as the Moo Booth, there are efforts to explain what farmers are doing to take care of the environment.
Dairy farmer Doris Mold, who oversees the Moo Booth, says when the booth underwent renovations in 2009, sustainability and animal welfare were themes they made sure to address.
"I think society as a whole has focused more on that, so the fair is often a reflection of that and what people are interested in," said.