The Iowa State Fair Returns

By Aaron Putze

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

This often-cited comment isn’t just a favored figure of speech. A 2013 published study proved that people involved in long-distance relationships had more meaningful interactions than those who saw each other daily.

While I prefer seeing those I love frequently, perhaps the adage best applies to Iowans’ love affair with the Iowa State Fair.

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Sunset at the iconic Iowa State Fair

After its absence last year, one of our nation’s most iconic events returns Aug 12-22.

Call it a hunch, but my gut tells me the crowds will be enormous.

This will be my 25th fair in 26 years. After teetering on state fair burnout at the close of the 2019 edition, I’m ready and waiting for the gates to open and the canon sound 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 12.

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America Needs Farmers artwork at the Iowa State Fair

Once again, I’m relishing thoughts of riding the sky glide, walking the cattle barn, navigating the Grand Concourse, sampling corn dogs, hot beef sundaes, and deep fried deviled eggs (check out the latter at the Cluck ‘n Coop tucked just inside the Midway operated by my friend Shon Bruellman).

I’m also looking forward to advocating once again for farmers during the 11-day event. The number of state fair visitors routinely tops one million. Most who walk the grounds have little to no connection to agriculture.

The Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) returns to the southeast atrium of the Varied Industries Building. It’s our 10th year in the location. Given roughly 250,000 fairgoers pass through the atrium annually, simple math tells me we’ve rubbed elbows with almost 2.5 million people.

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Rooster at the Iowa State Fair

The impact has been measurable. Each fair, we add thousands of new fans to Iowa FFP’s audience. In addition to having an appetite for state fair cuisine, they hunger for candid and accurate information about the food they eat, how it’s grown and who grows it. The Iowa FFP is an open book about food, family and farming. We welcome the interest people have in all things food-related, from the simple (no, chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows!) to the complicated (yes, genetic modification is a good thing).

Those who sign up to engage with Iowa FFP receive farm-fresh information about modern agriculture via a

combination of our e-newsletter, popular Fresh Pickings Magazine (published quarterly) and social media offerings. Not only does the audience stick, but surveys show that those engaged with the Iowa FFP are 6% more trusting of modern agriculture than the general public.

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Aaron Putze, APR, serves as the Sr. Dir., Information and Education for the Iowa Soybean Association. He was raised on a farm near West Bend and lives in Waukee with his wife Crystal and children Garrett, Grant and Jaelyn.

Given it’s our 10th fair, we’re going back to how it all began. In August 2010, our first exhibit featured numerous ag-centric creations made entirely out of canned and packaged food items. In 2021, we’re constructing a larger-than-life tribute to Iowa farmers. It will again be built entirely of canned and packaged food. While I’m not about to spill the beans on what we’ll be constructing, rest assured that you’ll leave the exhibit knowing that our food, land and future is in good hands because of the dedication of Iowa’s farm families.

But that’s not the only place the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) will have a presence. In addition to joining with Iowa’s commodity organizations to bring the Iowa FFP exhibit to life, biodiesel made from soybeans will power the state fair trams. Children participating in the super-popular Little Hands on the Farm will learn how soybeans are grown while visitors to the Ag Building will have the opportunity to visit with soybean farmers on select days. ISA is also helping support the volunteers who will be caring for the pigs, poults and turkeys fairgoers will ooh and awe at in the Animal Learning Center.

Absence might make the heart grow fonder but coming together is the best way to connect people who don’t farm with those who do.

And, so it will be again this year at the Iowa State Fair. I for one can’t wait.

Buttermilk Crunch Fried Cheese Curds

Recipe by Iowa Food & Family Project

8 servings
  • Prep 10 minutes
  • Cook 5 minutes
  • Total 15 minutes


  • 1–1½ quarts soybean oil
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups panko crumbs
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 12-ounce packages fresh cheese curds (white)


In a high-sided, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 1-1½ quarts of soybean oil to 375 degrees F.

Whisk together buttermilk, eggs, panko crumbs, flour, corn starch and baking powder until smooth.

Preparing a few at a time, coat cheese curds in batter and fry a few minutes until golden brown. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.

Serve immediately with marinara or ranch dressing for dipping.