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Learning about Minnesotans — at the State Fair, and at the ballot box

“The fair is where you learn about Minnesota and Minnesotans.”

I had only been working in Minnesota since early August when my boss said, “My wife is coming to get you tomorrow afternoon to take you to the State Fair.” I protested that I had patients to see and work to do, but he responded with, “The fair is where you learn about Minnesota and Minnesotans.”

He was right about that first visit 30-plus years ago when I climbed on tractors, watched butter carving, second-guessed sheep judging, and confirmed the rumor about the length of winter (How else would folks have time for those elaborate crafts?). And he’s been right ever since. I return to the State Fair every year to learn more about the habits and traditions of my fellow Minnesotans and to eat enough calories to see me through that terribly long winter.

I was also impressed that my first guide knew where everything was and actually ran into people she knew at the fair. I now know where everything is too, because not much really moves around and the changes that do happen simply mark the passage of time: the year you are tall enough for the rides or the stand with good Korean egg rolls closed.

I, too, run into people I know; some I saw yesterday and some are sketchy memories who stop and remind me that I helped at their baby’s birth or that our kids went to preschool together. I also run into LOTS of people I don’t know, and sharing an experience with rich and poor, rural and urban, hip and boring, and folks who choose to eat Scotch eggs instead of cheese curds binds me to my adopted state.

Competing and campaigning

The Great Minnesota Get Together of 2012 was different for me in two ways: I was a first-time competitor, and I was part of the campaign to defeat the marriage amendment. Both of these experiences helped me learn more about Minnesota.

I had jumped at the chance to turn one of my favorite August experiences — eating warm mini-donuts while attending live broadcasts of “The Morning Show” from the Fairgrounds — into an entry in the Kemps Hometown Ice Cream Contest. Little did I realize that in order for my Mini-sota Donut Ice Cream to win I would have to step outside my comfort zone and ask (beg?) people to vote for me online, at the fair, and in front of a panel of celebrity judges. I even had to be interviewed for local TV as Kemps passed around tastes of the cinnamony ice cream with the chunks of mini donuts. This was way more stressful than walking around looking at the crop art, and it was hot.

To cool off after the TV show I picked up a fan from the hordes of young people working at the Minnesotans United for All Families booth. I was already doing office work as a volunteer for the right of all loving Minnesota couples to marry, but carrying that bright orange fan made my support obvious to all passers-by. The fan cooled me off but also made me feel a little uneasy and brash as it begged Minnesotans to vote “no.”

‘What’s that Vote NO sign mean?’

With fan in hand, I headed straight to the Dairy Barn for my chocolate malt and a chance to see a butter head being carved. As I stood by the refrigerated case a woman said to me, “What’s that Vote NO sign mean? My husband says they keep talking about it on Fox 9.”

I remember looking to make sure I actually had an escape route before taking a deep breath and gingerly explaining about the amendment. She said, “No means those gays can marry who they want?” I nodded my head and she said, “Great. That’s how I’ll vote.” Gee maybe that advocacy stuff was easier than it looked.

The next day my competitor, whose entry was rhubarb ice cream, and I pitched our flavors to Princess Kay and the other judges. Before you could say mini-donuts I had won a year’s supply of ice cream and my signature on the carton. Gee, maybe that ice cream stuff was easier than it looked.

Messages of autumn

I spent the fall saying, “You’ll be able to find my ice cream in stores around fair time” and “Don’t you think it would be fair if all Minnesotans could marry their beloved?” All the polls and news articles indicated it was likely that the amendment would pass and committed same-sex couples would be denied marriage in Minnesota. I joked that Mini-sota Donut Ice Cream would be in stores as soon as cows started giving milk with donut pieces in it. Holsteins seemed more open to change than Minnesota voters.

Election Day found me in the Midway neighborhood feeding campaign volunteers. When the polls closed, the young GLBT staff put their arms around their fellow Minnesotans and said, “Whether we win or lose, this has been amazing because you’ve stood with us and loved us.” And before you could say, “Vote No,” we won. Gee, maybe that equality stuff was easier than it looked.

I didn’t get to go to the Kemps plant to see how they mixed my ice cream and froze it in the cartons. I did however, get to go to the State Capitol and watch Minnesotans sing, pray, testify, lobby and lead as our legislators made love the law. I also got to stand on the Capitol lawn on a day that was as hot as any day at the fair and watch our governor give my friends and neighbors the right to marry. On Aug. 1 grocers stocked my sweet Mini-sota Donut Ice Cream in their freezers and Minnesotans filled their hearts with love for the couples who were finally able to marry.

A year of affirmation

This year at the fair will be different. I will return to the Kemps contest not as a nervous competitor but as a judge. When I get my malt, I hope to see many of the special Minnesotans I met while working to make love the law for all Minnesotans. This past year affirmed for me that “The fair is where you learn about Minnesota and Minnesotans” and that Minnesotans really are a fair bunch of folks.

Beth-Ann Bloom is a mom, genetic counselor, and community volunteer from Woodbury. She has longtime goals of entering and winning a ribbon in the Crop Art competition at the State Fair.


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