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Minnesota State Fair veterans dish out some tips

Minnesota State Fair visitors can get an aerial view of the fairgrounds aboard the Sky Glider. (Minnesota State Fair photo)1 / 2
Kalley Berg, a 4-H staffer, leads a fall calf inside the barn Wednesday before the opening of the Minnesota State Fair. (Jean Pieri / St. Paul Pioneer Press)2 / 2

Want to know the secrets of a successful journey through the Minnesota State Fair that begins today? Ask members of the Southern St. Louis County 4-H program.

Coordinator Valerie Coit is a big fan of the seed art in the round Agriculture Horticulture Building in the southeast corner of the fairgrounds on Underwood Street in Falcon Heights. And you have to get a bucket of Sweet Martha’s cookies (three booths at the fair) washed down with free milk at the “All You Can Drink” booth in the Sheep & Poultry Building just north of the coliseum on Judson Avenue.

Across the street is the Miracle of Birth Center, a favorite for

4-Hers, Coit said. It’s a real look at life on the farm, something more and more Minnesotans have gotten away from as the population becomes more urbanized.

Joanne Fay, a longtime 4-H parent, has a simple philosophy: “Start your day with a cream puff, end your day with a cream puff.” There’s a stand on Liggett Street and West Dan Patch Avenue, just west of the grandstand.

Marissa Jensen is 16 years old but is quite a veteran of the fair, thanks to her own experiences and learning from other 4-H members. Here is her list of favorites:

* A good place for air conditioning is the Blue Flame Lodge, Jensen said. It houses natural gas technology booths and is located between Dan Patch and Carnes avenues near the grandstand. “You can also get colorful yardsticks there.”

* The “best place” for free stuff is the Education Building, Jensen said. It’s next to the 4-H building on Cosgrove Street on the fair’s east side. She said you can learn a lot about the colleges in Minnesota and “get some free pencils and candy while you’re at it.”

* Jensen visits the University of Minnesota Building on Dan Patch Avenue two blocks in from Gate 5, on the east side, because outside is the QuitPlan Services booth which offers mints — as an alternative to cigarettes — and water bottles. “Then go inside the building and they have some cool heart and brain activities.”

* Two years ago, Jensen forgot to pack a toothbrush and toothpaste for the overnight stays at the fair. She was saved by going across the street from the 4-H Building and visiting the Sensodyne Dental Health booth at Cooper Street and Wright Avenue, where there is free toothpaste and toothbrushes.

* On the northeast side of the fair, at Machinery Hill, is the Kemps ice cream booth, a great place to cool off and blow off steam by playing whiffle ball, Jensen said. “Plus you get a chance to win a Kemps inflatable cow.”

* Nothing tops off a long day at the fair like a nighttime Sky Glider ride suspended over the fairgrounds. “You get to see the fair from up above for a cheap price,” she said. “It saves some energy from walking too.”

* Last, but not least, Jensen offers another suggestion: “You have to check out all of the projects in the 4-H Building, of course.”

Fair info

The 2014 Minnesota State Fair begins today and continues through Sept. 1. The fairgrounds are open 6 a.m. to midnight each day, except for Labor Day when the gates will close at 10 p.m. Nearly 1.8 million people are expected to visit the fair during its run this year. For more information, including maps, go to