There’s only one place where in one day you can watch a chicken get a bath, see calves being born, ride a train, race down a giant slide, see a sculpture made out of butter, catch a concert and see a robot mingling with people while you eat more fried food than any doctor would recommend, and it’s right here in central Kansas.
The Kansas State Fair, located in Hutchinson, looms around the corner, and I can’t wait for it to arrive.
This year the fair runs Sept. 10-19, and after a year where the buildings, rides, food stands and concert stages found themselves shuttered due to the pandemic, it’s going to be even more special to walk the fairgrounds and take in all the event has to offer.
And that’s the beauty of the Kansas State Fair. There is so much to see and do.
Since I was a young child, I remember going to the fair with my family, and it wahttps://www.kansasstatefair.com/s a great experience. We would always walk through the buildings and look at the exhibits, picking up any free swag that was available.
There was always a goal to find yardsticks, though I can’t remember why. Of course, paper fans and pens and pencils were always in abundance.
When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate those buildings and the wares being peddled and promoted. I just wanted to ride the rides, though that didn’t always get to happen no matter how much I begged.
Now, though, I appreciate the exhibits the most. There is so much that can be learned about this state by paying attention to what some of those displays are saying.
Also, there are cool items to pick up or purchase, or at least dream about owning.
For example, I enjoy looking at RVs and campers. Though I doubt I will ever be able to afford those top-of-the-line campers, it is great to imagine what it would be like to haul one to any destination knowing my family and I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a hotel room because our accommodations were gliding down the road behind us.
However, if anyone knows me just a little, they know my true passion for the fair stems from my stomach.
I love fair food.
I consider eating at the fair a sport, and I don’t like to lose.
I strategically plan out what I’m going to eat every day I am lucky enough to be at the fair.
Top of my list is Rotten Rodney’s Tacones. It’s a soft taco tortilla cooked into the shape of an ice cream cone that is then stuffed with typical taco fillings. It’s simple and delicious.
While I’m polishing off my mobile taco, I have to go get in line for some fried cheese curds. Those cheddar delights rise to a new level when dipped in ranch dressing and marinara sauce.
Later on, I might need a snack, so I point myself toward either the roasted ears of corn, a blooming onion or a Jaffle.
These little, grilled sandwiches are usually stuffed with pizza toppings, and they make for an easy-to-eat morsel that can be consumed with one hand.
Then there are the delicacies found in the yellow huts rising from the earth like a beautiful beacon of happiness and sustenance — the D&J Pronto Pup stands.
Though some might try to argue that a Pronto Pup is just a corndog, they couldn’t be more wrong.
Pronto Pups have a special breading that makes it just a bit sweeter than your average corndog, and then they are deep-fried to perfection. Top it with some spicy brown mustard, and you have a gourmet meal on a stick.
It’s not a trip to the fair without eating a Pronto Pup.
Hitting up the Krehbiel’s or grabbing a stuffed cucumber usually is a good idea too.
Then I can wash it all down with the $1 iced tea from the pink stands.
Of course, there are plenty of other options, but I am a creature of habit. I do experiment, though.
I’ve tried some of the “new” items that some of the food vendors have tried. Like the Krispy Kreme hamburger or the deep-fried deviled eggs.
The burger was fine. It was just a hamburger with a donut bun. It was nothing too wild.
The deviled eggs, though. Yikes. I love deviled eggs, but I still feel the bile rise in the back of my throat just thinking about those. They did not agree with me.
Oh, and don’t forget about the people.
If you enjoy the hobby of people-watching, the fair provides hours upon hours of enjoyment.
That isn’t to say you have to be mean about it, but there are certainly interesting individuals walking around the fairgrounds, people who have their own unique stories that make up the fabric of the tapestry that is this state.
In that way, the fair is a melting pot. It brings together people of all stripes and backgrounds. There are few events that attract such a diverse segment of the population like the Kansas State Fair.
While walking the streets between buildings and stands, everyone is equal. They all have sweat on their brows. They all have dirt on their shoes. And those mustard stains on their shirts just make sense.
No one or thing is out of place. Everyone belongs. It’s wonderful to see.
The Kansas State Fair is also interesting in how much education happens. You’ll see herds of school children going from place to place as they learn about art, agriculture, horticulture and everything else that makes up Kansas.
That’s why the fair bills itself as “Kansas’ Largest Classroom.” They provide lesson plans and activities for school groups to do.
High school students can take part in the marching band competition and the debate and forensics showcase, and college students can take part in a photography internship.
This year I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with high school journalism students as the coordinator of the Scholastic Press Corps.
As the fair’s website explains, “The Scholastic Press Corps program was developed to provide high school students with an opportunity to put their journalism and video production skills to the test. The competition puts students in a real ‘on-the-job’ situation where they must use their journalism and video production skills to cover specific stories and to develop a four-page newsletter or a four-minute video for a wide range audience.”
I used to take my high school students to this competition, and it was always an incredible experience. While getting to take in all the fair has to offer, they also get to practice journalism. They get their one day at the fair to produce their newsletters or videos, and they can’t start until they arrive. Everything must be submitted by 6 p.m.
It’s always impressive what the students can produce within these constraints, and I can’t wait to see what this year’s slate of students come up with.
There’s truly something for everyone at the fair. I hope you get the opportunity to go, and if you plan to tackle the gauntlet of food items, I suggest wearing pants with a little bit of room. You don’t want to get taken out of the game because of a waistband that’s too tight.
Todd Vogts is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.