Infrequently Asked Questions: Surprising facts about the Minnesota State Fair

A collage of images of the Giant Slide.
Fairgoers ride down the Giant Slide at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 25.
Caroline Yang for MPR News

Updated: Sept. 1, 1:00 p.m. | Posted: Aug. 24, 7:02 p.m.

Every year, we bring you essential Minnesota State Fair news and information. Attractions? Attendance? New foods? If you've got a question, we've got the answer. In decades covering the Fair, it seemed like we had answered them all. But had we? In 2022, we challenged ourselves to dig deeper and find the answers to a series of "Infrequently Asked Questions." A year later, we're back at it with answers to questions about corn, butterheads, architecture and beyond.

What happens to the animals after the fair?

Guiding pigs
Pigs are guided through the stalls in the swine barn on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The State Fair is, at its heart, an agricultural exhibition, and meat is one of the reasons many of these animals were bred and raised. The 4-H participants have the option to send those animals right from the fair to market — there are literally trucks waiting for them here and this is their second to last stop. But many of the animals in the open class competitions are not meant for market and go back to the pasture or home the came from after the fair. Some are bought by breeders and animal dealers.

Why is a former Harvard professor studying the State Fair?

The entrance to the Minnesota State Fair.
Early fairgoers to the Minnesota State Fair wait for the gates to open.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Dingliang Yang is an architecture professor at the University of Minnesota. He came here in 2022 from Harvard to join the commission board for the Minnesota-USA bid for the 2029 Green Expo, a sort of eco World's Fair. He’s a leading expert on the design of civic mega projects like the World’s Fair. The Minnesota State Fair is another prime example of these projects he likes to call miniature cities because they've been built up bit by bit over time and feature a mix of different architecture styles.

What happens to the Princess Kay butter busts after the fair?

Two people carry a butter sculpture
Sarah Olson Schmidt and Elizabeth Olson Hall carry out a butter sculpture in Hutchinson, Minn.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Princess Kay of the Milky Way and each finalist gets to take their butter bust and carving scraps home after the fair. On the last day, their families pull their cars up to the dairy building, crank the air conditioning and rush the busts home to their freezers. What happens next is up to the families. Some host community corn roasts and pancake breakfasts to use up the butter. Others save it for their wedding. One family, the Olson’s in Hutchinson, Minn., keeps three of them in two deep freezers — the second bought specially to store two daughters’ butter busts.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

Where does the butter for the Princess Kay sculptures come from?

A sculptor carves a block of butter
Butter carver Gerry Kulzer carves a likeness of Princess Kay of the Milky Way in a 90-pound block of butter. Kulzer is the new lead butter carver at the Minnesota State Fair.
Courtesy Becky Church | Midwest Dairy

It turns out it’s a team effort to get the 90-pound blocks of butter to the fair, with dairy farmers from across the upper Midwest pitching in. They’re part of the dairy co-op Associated Milk Producers, Inc., and they’ve been donating butter to the fair since the 1990s. It all gets hand-packed into blocks specially designed with a fair sculptor at the co-op’s butter plant in New Ulm, Minn. While the blocks are a special order, you can find the same butter for your dinner table under the brand Dinner Bell Creamery.

Where does the corn for the corn roast come from?

A person shows three ears of corn
Jerry Untiedt, owner of Untiedt Farm, holds three ears of corn on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Monticello
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Each year, fairgoers chomp their way through an estimated 250,000 ears of corn. And each of those ears gets its start about 50 miles west of the fairgrounds, in Waverly, Minn. Jerry Untiedt has produced for the State Fair for about 20 years, and has perfected the timeline. He plants in May so the corn is ready to be harvested just in time for the fair. And unlike on most modern farms, Untiedt’s corn is harvested by hand.

Who owns the Minnesota State Fair and its buildings?

A refreshment stand shines in the evening light.
A refreshment stand shines brightly as evening approaches at the Minnesota State Fair on August 25, 2023.
Caroline Yang for MPR News

The 322-acre site of the State Fair is public land owned by the state and assigned exclusively to the Minnesota State Agricultural Society. As for the buildings, dozens of historic buildings and artifacts belong to the fair, but other things from the giant slide to the Sweet Martha's Cookies buildings to the Space Needle are privately owned but stand on public property.

Where does all that cooking grease go?

A french fries stand lit up at night
Highlights from day one at the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.
Mike Madison/Bump Opera Photography for MPR

Fair food vendors dispose of 125,000 to 150,000 pounds of used cooking oil most years. That grease is then picked up by Sanimax, a Canadian company that collects used cooking oil from thousands of businesses across North America. It takes that oil to its facility in South St. Paul, where it cleans and purifies it to make new products, including biodiesel, soaps and other household goods, and animal feed.

What happens to all the money at the State Fair?

People stand at a counter inside a fair building
Fairgoers wait in line at the Dairy Goodness counter inside the Minnesota State Fair Dairy Building.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

There’s a lot of money at the fair — tens of millions of dollars from ticket sales alone. On top of that, food vendors have to pay 15 percent of their revenue to the fair. And that transaction happens every day.

How does the fair know it’s not getting cheated? It sends auditors out to monitor vendors and make sure what they’re paying matches up with observed business levels.

Where do the 4-H kids sleep?

The 4-H building at the Minnesota State Fair is shown in a wide shot
Despite popular belief, 4-H kids do not sleep with their animals at night. The 3rd floor of the 4-H building houses dorms, with bunks for all the 4-H members.
Jacob Aloi | MPR News

Most people associate 4-H kids at the Minnesota State Fair with animals. When you go to the fair, you see these hard-working farm kids prodding pigs, shearing sheep and cozying up with cows — all in hopes of earning a ribbon. The animals stay in the barns. But where do the kids who brought them go at night? Contrary to popular belief, they don’t sleep near their animals. They sleep in a dormitory.

What happens to all the manure at the Minnesota State Fair?

People walk on the road around manure at the fair
Fairgoers walk around horse manure left outside the Cattle Barn at the Minnesota State Fair.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Hundreds of farm animals are shown every year at the Minnesota State Fair — and where you find farm animals, you know you’re going to find something else. Manure. Lots and lots of manure. Where does it all go? A manure pit behind the Livestock Pavilion. From there, it goes to Minnesota Mulch in Maple Grove, Minn., where it’s mixed with other organics and turned into topsoil.

What happens at the Minnesota State Fair overnight?

Rides light up the Midway.
Lights from a swing ride make trails in the night sky in the Midway at the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2016

Each day of the Minnesota State Fair, tens of thousands of people visit the fairgrounds. But what happens after they all leave? Because the fair has become so crowded during the day, all of the food, beverages, propane and other deliveries have to get hauled in overnight. The fair also gets a deep clean by janitorial staff. And now and again, there are pranks.

What happens to the DNR fish after the State Fair is over?

Fairgoers look at fish in the DNR pond.
Fair attendants watch the approximately 45 species of fish in the DNR Fish Pond at the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2016

Each year the Minnesota DNR stocks a pond full of fish at the Minnesota State Fair. But what happens to the fish after the fair is done? Because they share tight quarters, there’s the potential for them to swap pathogens, and that means they can’t be released into the wild. So they go into a pond near the DNR office. And that’s where they came from too — it’s a fish colony created specifically for the fair.