2021 Minnesota State Fair Recap


Will Sherry

After a year off, the famous Minnesota State Fair has marked its 2021 historic return. With challenges like rain and storm, a labor shortage, supply chain issues and plenty more, it was definitely a year unlike any other, but yet Minnesota still came out in full force. With classics like the Pronto Pup, Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar, Tom Thumb Donuts and All You Can Drink Milk, there was no shortage of good food and good fun to be had for all.

This year’s attendance with a Labor Day total of 123,578 brought the year’s total to 1,301,594. The fair’s attendance record was set in 2018 with a whopping 2,046,533 people making their way onto the grounds, and as we saw numbers nowhere near that this year, most were just happy to be back.

Some awesome records were set this year and some cool statistics were taken from everyone who participated. The fair’s Purple Ribbon Auction held on Saturday, August 28th raised more than $880,000 as well as setting nine new record prices. The auction also awarded $88,000 worth of scholarships to the children in 4-H. At this year’s State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition, Shawn Bromen from White Bear Lake, Minnesota won the Kids Choice Award for a sculpture, “Charging Rex”, as well as Cody Wagner won the Adults Choice Award for a photograph called “Unrest and Anger Takes the Street in Unity.” This exhibition featured the largest juried art show in Minnesota. Lastly the fair’s agricultural and creative competitions brought in an amazing 28,500 entries plus. The events participants competed in were those such as horses, livestock, baked and canned goods, fruits, vegetables, fine arts, bee and honey products, dog trials, school projects, farm crops, butter, cheese and many more.

As we have taken a look at the positives of being back, we must also take a look at some of the negatives. The biggest story plaguing the Minnesota State Fair in 2021 was the struggle for vendors trying to find workers. On August 20th, with just under a week remaining until the start of the fair, the yearly top vendor Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar was still on the hunt for 100 employees to help work the stands and sell the oh so famous chocolate chip cookies. With this issue making people so desperate, even vendors like Mark Andrew going into his 50th year at the fair, were sending out emails begging friends and anyone else who was willing to come work. Andrew is quoted saying, “In all my decades as a business owner at the Minnesota State Fair, I have never had a shortage of help, until now.” To fight this, most vendors have increased wages, some even as much as an extra $5 per hour, with companies like Martha’s Sweet Cookie Jar offering a bump in starting salary, up to $15 per hour, while others try whatever creative ways they can to bring employment to their booths. 

In all my decades as a business owner at the Minnesota State Fair, I have never had a shortage of help, until now”

— Mark Andrew

Another issue plaguing the fair was a recent lawsuit from a gun owners group. Current rule is that guns are not allowed on fair grounds, even if you are a permit holder. This group is suing as they are demanding that permit holders need to be allowed to carry handguns onto the fairgrounds, as the normal permit laws act. 

The last, and most socially relevant issue affecting the fair was that of COVID-19. Should masks be mandatory on fairgrounds? Should they only be required indoors? These were questions that fair operators had to deal with, and the conclusion they came to was that masks were strongly encouraged while indoors, but not required, which brought some unease of it’s own as we live in a very blue state. This is a controversial subject, especially when dealing with a crown as large as the one that would be attending the Minnesota State Fair. 

Before us fairgoers saw the struggles and triumphs of this year’s famous Minnesota State Fair, Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar’s hiring manager Katie Atlas states, “I honestly have 100 percent faith that they are going to knock this one out of the park. We’ve gone through some really long years together and we trust each other. It’s a great team. I’m very pumped that we will get through it just fine.” And right she was. As it may not have been a normal year or what we expected, great times were still spent, and we were back at the historical Minnesota State Fair.