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Viewpoint: Dakota County Fair showcases the best of the best

Kara Hildreth

This week Dakota County Fair sells passports to fun.

Loyal, veteran fair-goers return to the fairgrounds each year, but I aim to appeal to you who have never attended the Dakota County Fair or have not returned for a few years. You know who you are.

This year fair organizers plan to offer more free music all day and into the evening across the fairgrounds. You can check out lively musical theatre at the daily Chautauqua tent show that makes fun of Minnesota nice with songs and one-liners.

Last year Dakota County 4-H celebrated 100 years. Next year the fair will invest in a new 4-H building to educate generations of Dakota County youth into the next century.

My love affair with fairs stems from my family tradition of loving the Iowa State Fair. My parents grew up on Iowa farms in small towns. I grew used to hearing all the stories about farm life and how each summer ended with the county fair. This was the anticipated event where all neighbors and family gathered to celebrate the best of the best.

I remember my cousins from Mount Ayr would mail us newspaper clippings from the fair 4-H competitions. The photographs showed my cousins smiling and standing next to a horse, sheep or cow while usually holding a blue or red ribbon.

As a city girl, I was so envious of the 4-H experience. Growing up in Des Moines I had fun in the corn field at the end of my backyard, but I wanted the adventure of caring for my own farm animal. I dreamed of having the chance to bathe, groom and love my own farm animal. I was a nerdy girl who wanted to live on a farm, and I know now that farming is more hard work than romance.

As an Iowa farm boy, my father was a loyal fair-goer who met up with family and friends at the Iowa State Fair. He attended every day in the last few years of his life, wearing his weathered straw hat to keep sun off his face and his bald head. He walked across the large fairgrounds with curiosity and enthusiasm. Even when he was sick and temperatures raced near 100 degrees as he carried mobile oxygen on his back.

When I returned home to visit him, I cherished the fair time with my Dad. We could sit under a shady tree and eat pork chop on a stick and chat about life. I relished hearing all his stories about the fair. About his life growing up on a farm and how the fair played such a important role in the life of farm families.

My father loved to study the fair photographs on display in the arts building since photography was his beloved hobby. Photography was one love we shared as adults. Today I display his old photo gear in my home office, along with my Mom's old manual typewriter.

When my father passed away nine years ago, our family dedicated a permanent memorial to celebrate my Dad's enduring love and devotion to the Iowa State Fair. Today a black granite stone is part of a walkway in front of the grandstand with the engraved words: "Roger Smith loved the fair. Watch over us at the fair. Your family and friends love and miss you."

Now I carry on the love affair with the fair.

Since I have made a home in Farmington I have grown to love the Dakota County Fair like my father loved the Iowa State Fair.

Since my teenage son was a preschooler, we have attended the Dakota County Fair with anticipation and enthusiasm. As a boy, my son entered his Lego creations and engineering projects and took home a few blue and red ribbons. His heavenly Oreo truffles and a molasses cookie recipe from his favorite elementary teacher won some ribbons. One year he entered a fresh garden salsa recipe. I captured a sweet photo of him smiling with sweat beads rolling off his forehead inside the hot foods fair building right before the salsa competition.

In the last 10 years my family is so satisfied with Dakota County Fair, we do not find the need to attend the great get together at the Minnesota State Fair. Everything you want is waiting at Dakota County Fair — animals, rides, music, entertaining grandstand events, 4-H exhibits, arts and tempting fair foods.

This year I look forward to photographing the fair while looking for a good story waiting to be told. My son and I plan to attend a few grandstand events. We will walk the fairgrounds and check out what we can explore with our passports to fun.