Pharyngula

A day at the Stevens County Fair

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This is what living in the rural midwest is all about: the county fair! The place was packed yesterday with amazing numbers of people having a good time.

I’ve put a few photos below the fold.

Animal:

We’ve got barns full of beasts.

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That horse wanted to eat my camera. Most of the animals cowed, or sheeplike, or swinishly lazy, but that guy was at least alert and interested enough to do something.

Vegetable:

These displays were even less active.

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I will spare you the sheds full of 4H and FFA crafts.

Mineral:

Farmers have a fascination with huge hardware, I think.

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The cannon in the middle of the fair grounds is frighteningly militaristic, but at least it was aimed towards South Dakota. Since this is Minnesota, snowmobiles are a big draw, as are icehouses and other oddities.

There is a long row of immense farm vehicles, all enameled in bright primary colors (I have never seen a pastel tractor.) I have no idea what most of them do. The yellow one with the tanks above is a Bulk Sheep Inseminator, I think, while the blue one is a Swine Fecal Matter Compactor and Launcher. Yes, I’m lying. I have no clue.

Unnatural:

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You are reading that correctly: Fried Cheese Curds. In complete denial of fair food tradition, I fled these things and found a place that would sell me a salad. I was afraid they’d hand me a batter-dipped deep-fried salad, but it was a normal bowl with lettuce and tomatoes and such like — otherwise, I fear I’d be lying there dead with blood so glutinous and congealed it couldn’t flow. The food booths were in general, terrifying.

OK, that’s enough—we’ll end this on the traditional night time shot of the Ferris Wheel:

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I’m going today at 4 to staff the DFL booth. And I’m going back tomorrow to sit at UMM’s booth. And I’m going back on Sunday to work the humane society’s booth. When the fair arrives, you cannot escape it.

Comments

  1. #1 quork
    August 11, 2006

    Farmers have a fascination with huge hardware, I think.

    Uh-huh. And I have a fascination with the safety stickers on the modern farm equipment.

  2. #2 frank schmidt
    August 11, 2006

    That was a faux-salad, P.Z. Everyone knows that in Minnesota, salad is orange Jello with suspended olives and carrots, and a large dab of Miracle Whip on top.

  3. #3 bmurray
    August 11, 2006

    While fried cheese curds nearly takes first prize for most astounding fried food, my money is still on oreilles de christ.

  4. #4 did
    August 11, 2006

    You ran from fried cheese curds?

    You’re dead to me, PZ. Dead.

    did

  5. #5 William
    August 11, 2006

    > Farmers have a fascination with huge hardware, I think.

    Profitability on the modern business model of the farm requires enormous economies of scale. A $100,000 machine can increase productivity on a 2,000 acre farm enough to give a positive ROI over its lifespan. Alternative models (polyculture farming for local markets, especially community-supported agriculture) are spreading, but there are questions as to whether they can be widely implemented; our farm population is falling as a fraction of the overall population, so fewer people need to feed more people.

    As a Democratic activist, I’ve been concerned for some time about how we need to talk to the farm country. Look at a 2004 election map: we lost farming states and, in the states we won, did so by winning cities. Now, we certainly need to hold that — the population is still shifting toward metropolitan areas and off farms — but if we want to be competitive across the country we need to be able to communicate with rural voters, where Republicans have a lock right now.

    Problem is, I’m a city boy and know squat about the rural life. I know the Democrats have ground to stand on out there: Social Security, Medicare, and senior concerns are pocketbook issues of Dem strength that I bet can beat out God, guns and gays, but there are lots more issues to deal with. Immigration impacts farms directly, and the Doha round collapsed over farm subsidies (which I think Democrats ought to make a practic of pointing out mostly go to a few big corporate farmers, IIRC).

    Summer’s definitely fair season, and I’m visiting the PA Grange Fair in a couple of weeks. If there are any people on this blog who know something about ag voters and would like to offer advice on what I should listen for, talk about, and listen for when I’m out there, I’d be happy to hear. (Hit the URL linked below and there’s an “Aggies” thread on a teeny-tiny groupblog that would love your comments there too.)

  6. #6 Martin Christensen
    August 11, 2006

    Good to see that the 50D is being put to use. I’ve had mine for about three months and have already shot around 10,000 pictures. Wonderful gizmo… just wonderful. :-)

    Martin

  7. #7 TheBrummell
    August 11, 2006

    “Farmers have a fascination with huge hardware, I think.”

    I’ve noticed that too. I’m also a city-boy, and I’ve only ever visited a small number of farms – but even the biodynamic-mystic-organic-bullshit-vegan farm on Vancouver Island I saw a few years ago had more heavy machinery scattered across a few acres than I’d ever seen before owned by one person.

    The economic explanation given above by William makes sense. It also calls to mind a quote I cannot remember accurately:

    Modern farming is the use of land as a catalyst to convert petroleum into food.

    I remember seeing a figure, possibly in an intro-ecology course, describing caloric-return for various activities. Hunter-gatherer was supposed to be a ratio of about 1:1.2 (you get 1.2 calories for every 1 calorie invested), modern industrial-scale farming ranged from about 8:1 to 12:1, and deep-sea fishing was the worst you could possibly do, at 20:1.
    I am NOT arguing for a return to agrarianism; I’d just like to see more efficient power sources on those vehicles and machinery.

  8. #8 Mena
    August 11, 2006

    Re: Fried Cheese Curds
    Ack, fried poutine! It’s scary looking enough on fries (I think that it looks like monochromatic vomit) but to eat it straight and fried, oh the horror!
    By the way, I was disappointed because when I loaded the images under “minerals” I didn’t see any actual minerals. :^(

  9. #9 Nymphalidae
    August 11, 2006

    Just be grateful you have fried cheese curds at your fairs! We went to the MO State Fair when we first moved down here and their idea of fried cheese was corn dog bread injected with nacho cheese sauce. It was the worst thing ever.

  10. #10 did
    August 11, 2006

    Mena, Mena, Mena…

    They’re battered first, silly. Then into the oil they go. Then into me.

    did

  11. #11 David Harmon
    August 11, 2006

    Deep fried cheese curds would at least have more protein than say, a funnel cake! Nice photoblogging!

    From what I can tell, between cartels and subsidies, the farm markets have been increasingly isolated from the underlying realities, as decisions come from capitalists and politicians instead of farmers. That of course, is a disaster waiting to happen….

  12. #12 Ian H Spedding
    August 11, 2006

    My wife – a Minnesota native – says forget the deep-fried cheese curds, it’s the deep-fried Snickers bars, but you have to eat them fast before the chocolate melts. For those interested in more international cuisine, deep-fried Mars Bars are the Scottish equivalent.

    For those of you who want to “feel” like you’re eating something more healthy, there’s always the Uff-dah Taco.

    I really liked the cannon, though. Much better than a bright yellow Deep-fried Biology Professor Artery De-Clogger. I’m told by my wife that the yellow machine in the picture could be for spraying chemicals, such as fertilizer and pesticides. Apparently, for farmers, big machines are the agricutural equivalent of laptops and Blackberrys.

  13. #13 J-Dog
    August 11, 2006

    If this is MN, then where are the pictures and/or exhibits of the Wood Chippers?

  14. #14 did
    August 11, 2006

    Yeah, Scotland – they’re the only people on earth who fry things more than a carnival will. Fried pizza slices. Fried pineapple rings. One of my cohorts from my year in Aberdeen swears he saw a fried cheeseburger, bun and all.

    did

  15. #15 Rick @ shrimp and grits
    August 11, 2006

    That can’t be a real county fair. Where are the battered/fried Oreos?

  16. #16 Mena
    August 11, 2006

    Did, I only have experience with poutine. It’s quite slimy. Is eating the batter covered variation like eating oysters?
    (Hey, I love the marine inverts but they sure are good eating!)

  17. #17 Keith Douglas
    August 11, 2006

    bmurray: You’ve mispelled it. It is often spelled “oreilles de chriss” to better reflect its pronunciation. And yes, they are pretty wacky things. And the description on Wikipedia is not quite accurate, either. Very often they are just simply pork fat fried (I guess with flour) until hard.

    Amazing that two Quebecois foods (poutine and ODC) came up in this thread. Incidentally, there is an even more artery-clogging version of poutine: the so-called Italian poutine. Instead of gravy, it uses meatball sauce.

  18. #18 Mike
    August 11, 2006

    Cheese curd fans know you don’t cook them or use them in poutine. You eat them fresh, never refrigerated, so you get the squeak.

  19. #19 david
    August 11, 2006

    A few random thoughts:

    I was raised on the dry side of Washington State and have spent a fair amount of time on farms. In my experience, farmers are nearly the most conservative people on earth (there are some good reasons for that); you’re going to have a hard time getting a significant number to switch to voting Democrat.

    My uncle was a dairy farmer–he thought that most of the subsidies went to corporate farms. Anecdotes aren’t data (is that an acronym yet?–AAD?), but it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard of a sell to convince the few family farmers left that phasing out subsidies is actually leveling the playing field (although you’d need to get the politicians to recognize that the farm lobbies represent corporations and not voters). It might be harder to convince the portion of the non-farming public that is sympathetic to family farms that getting rid of the subsidies is helping the farmers (there might be more farm-sympathizers now than actual farmers).

    My dad owns lots of farm machinery. One of the reasons is that it is cheaper and easier to buy machinery than to hire grunt labor (my dad also likes machinery). Farm machinery is the damndest collection of chain drives and hydraulics–a harobed stacking hay is like something from a Rube Goldberg exhibit (but more lethal).

    I’d seen something like the quote The Brummell mentions above about farms and calories; the one I saw went along the lines of a farm being a mechanism for converting diesel to calories–the upshot being that it takes roughly a kilocalorie of diesel to produce a kilocalorie of food. I expect there are less energy-intensive ways to farm, but I suspect that they’d end up costing more money.