As soon as I stepped in the north gate, I was struck by the mix of people, colors, scents and sounds of the Utah State Fair. I looked around and what impressed me was the immediate immersion in experience. Some of the fair could be categorized as a mix between a swap meet and a carnival, however, the Utah State Fair still retains a healthy dose of traditionalism and hearkens back to its roots with the displays of craftsmanship, quality animals and show from around Utah and the West.
The Utah State Fair has roots that are steeped in Utah history. The first fair held in Utah was called the Deseret Fair, and was held just nine years after the first white settlers arrived in the area. The fair continued to be held yearly even though it struggled financially for some time and it shifted from place to place within the Salt Lake Valley, including being held at one time on the present day site of Trolley Square. Finally, in 1902 the State Legislature purchased the 65 acres of the Fairpark, originally called "Agriculture Park." This has been the site of the Utah State Fair ever since.
Celebrating 156 years in 2011, the Utah State Fair continues to offer the best of the best in Utah agriculture, livestock, crafts and art. It also offers commercial booths with merchants from all over the west, as well as the traditional midway carnival, which on the day this reporter visited seemed a bit lonely, waiting for the hordes of pleasure seekers that would later throng to its neon lit walkways as the sky darkened for the evening. However the vendors and merchants were going in full force.
A walk through the vendor areas is always an interesting adventure. Many of the booths change from year to year but many merchants come year after year, enjoying the fair just as much or more than the customers who come to see them. One such merchant, Debbie Veal, runs the Fudge A Little Candy Company booth. Debbie says of coming to the fair, “I love it!” Debbie said her family has been running a booth at the fair for, “Forty or fifty years.” Debbie also stated, “Our family has been coming to the fair forever. I've been doing this for seven years and my sister did it before that.” The Fudge A Little Candy booth is located just inside the west door of the Discovery Building, which can be found next to Gate A in the north parking lot. Fudge A Little Candy Company has a website which can be found at www.fudgealittlecandy.com. Debbie and family aren't the only ones who enjoy the fair year after year. Directly across from her both can be found Ron Wilson who runs R & R Traders, and specializes in diamond cut pewter figurines and jewelry. Ron has been coming to the fair for 20 years and has been in the same location now for 15 years. The Utah State fair remains a tradition for merchants like Debbie and Ron just as it does for many families who come each year.
Outside the buildings which house many vendors booths are a multitude of other offerings; everything from clothing and caps to figurines and food, which can run from the pleasant to the bizarre. Some merchants are offering eccentric but allegedly tasty treats this year, such as a maggot sandwich, and “scorpion on a stick”, amongst other equally challenging fare. Balancing this are the many who offer such things as Hawaiian style BBQ chicken and of course the ever present corn dogs, soda and burgers. Even Wal-Mart got into the act, offering a wonderful all natural peach smoothie. Using local Utah peaches, Wal-Mart was offering the smoothies free to those who were willing to wait for it under their canopy on the plump and comfy patio furniture or on their shaded picnic tables available nearby. As part of Wal-Mart's Eco-friendly effort, they were also giving out re-usable shopping bags, and even the making of the smoothies was “green friendly”, as they were making them with a blender powered by bicycle. Those powering the bicycle-blender did so with a grin as they pumped the stationary bike for all it was worth. Their efforts were rewarded with a smooth tasting and natural concoction that pleased the palate on a warm day at the fair.
The merchant and vendors are certainly not the only things available or worthy to see at the Utah State Fair. Many folks from around the state have put forward their crafts, produce and animals to be seen and admired as well. Everything from locally grown tomatoes and potatoes, hand crafted needlework and quilts to photography and fine art are available in the various buildings around the fair. Pigs, sheep, beef and dairy cattle, goats, chickens rabbits and more can be found at the fair and are delightful to see and share with the family. A highlight for many at the fair this year will be the baby Jersey cow that was born while people watched. The crowd surged around the enclosure put up for the new mother and calf, with the mother hovering over the calf with parental concern. Barely two hours old when I happened along to see it, the calf stood and took some of its first faltering steps while we watched on, with the appreciative sounds of the crowd as a background noise. A wonderful interlude at the fair and one that was the icing on an already extremely satisfying cake.
One of my personal favorites is the photography and fine arts made available for viewing by local photographers and artists. I was amazed by the effort and work put into the beautiful works offered and certainly recommend the areas to anyone visiting the fair. Photography can be found in the second floor of the Grand Building and fine art can be found at the Bonneville Building.
Among all the merchants, rides, animals and crafts, are entertainment and excitement in the form of entertainers of all kinds and types. From a balloon animal making clown to a man who is a self described “Santa Claus” with a gaggle of geese dressed in eclectic clothing wandering amongst the crowds of people, as well as stage shows and of course the rodeo and concert events. The Utah State Fair has a little something for everyone.
Located at the Utah State Fairpark, 155 North and 1000 West in Salt Lake City, and running from September 8th to the 18th, the Utah State Fair is something no one in Utah should miss. Children 5 and under are free, children ages 6-12 are $7, Adults $10 and senors age 62+ are $7. Parking within the fair ground parking lots is $6.