At The Farm GateDollars to donuts: The great State Fair returns
We park the van, help the kids set up 4-H exhibits and make a beeline to the donut stand. Through the glass display in the mobile food trailer at the Illinois State Fair, we watch a machine pump out mini rings of donut batter into what resembles a lazy river of hot cooking oil. The donuts sizzle as they move along the channel of oil before a turner flips them to fry the opposite side. A worker coats the donuts in granulated sugar and serves them in quantities as large as commemorative plastic pails.
We own two and bring them to every Illinois State Fair for bargain fill-ups.
The mini donuts, the pork burgers and a towering cup of soft-serve ice cream from the Dairy Building will feel extra special this August, which marks two years since the fair’s return in Springfield. We’re ready. We haven’t seen enough food on sticks nor a life-sized cow carved from butter in 730 days.
During a typical visit, we entertain ourselves with experiences related to agriculture and natural resources. Our family watches a bit of the hog show and browses displays of fruits and gladioli stems with prize-winning rosettes. We take in a draft horse competition while sipping a lemon shakeup and wishing Illinois were less humid. Despite the August heat, educational exhibits and political parties set up camp. Landscapes of blooming flowers beautify the 366-acre fairgrounds, ample space that allows residents to break from the norm. Visitors can view the birth of piglets or shoot a bow and arrow under supervision, all at the Illinois State Fair.
Modern farm machinery lines the street leading to the Commodities Pavilion, our family’s favorite lunch space for Illinois-raised pork, beef and lamb. At some point, we venture over to Conservation World where the kids view tanks of local fish species and learn about the mussels they find in the river that borders the farm. A tractor-pulled tram takes us back to where we started, ready to collect the kids’ 4-H exhibits and ribbons.
We depart with tired feet, full bellies and family memories without even experiencing the grandstand events, carnival rides nor twilight parade that kicks off the 11-day event. My heart sings a bit of the soundtrack from “State Fair,” an old musical with good advice. “Don’t miss it; don’t even be late,” or the donut line will be long.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat and hay and raise beef cattle and backyard chickens.