A Fair To Remember

"With younger kids, it's about mastering their fear. I think kids will gravitate toward experiences that will provoke a level of fear which they can then master. Then, for some, there's an addictive quality. Like sex addicts and gamblers, they're addicted to the thrill. If your heart isn't in your throat, you aren't really feeling. The final level is a rite of passage. Outside of normal religious traditions, there are no societal rites of passage. This is true especially for teenage boys. You'll see them do a vision quest, where they'll go out and test themselves. Extreme sports, thrill rides, and the like are especially popular."

Adams adds that even though the chance of injury is remote on the midway, it's typical for riders to heighten the adventure by perpetuating myths. "Tall tales are part of the mastery," he says.

So before you hop on the Ferris wheel this year (one of the fair's most popular rides), consider this: Despite Jim Sinclair's recollection, someone did greet the reaper as a result of a bum ride at the fair. In 1905, a car fell off the Ferris wheel with a middle-aged woman and her husband inside. According the newspaper account, he recovered; she met her maker on the way to the hospital.

That's all we know, dear reader. Embellish, if you will.

Beyond the Butterhead
The business of being Kay
by Christina schmitt

Until Norm Coleman agrees to have his likeness carved into an 85-pound slab of butter, Princess Kay of the Milky Way will remain the biggest celebrity draw of the State Fair. She is its supreme monarch, her status uncontested by the relatively obscure Honey Queen, or by any of the 26 male and female Pork Ambassadors (the Minnesota Pork Producers have swapped their Pork Queen program for a more egalitarian form of representation).

And contrary to what oglers at the fair's Dairy Building might tell you, there is life for Princess Kay beyond the revolving cooler where she and the 10 runners-up pose for their butter sculptures. "This isn't a beauty pageant," says Kari Skiba, the outgoing Princess Kay. "This is a professional role. We're representing an industry that is very important to our state." Consequently, once the fair is over, Princess Kay morphs from sideshow attraction into powerful marketing tool for the American Dairy Association of Minnesota.

It's a tradition that goes back to 1954, when the Minnesota Dairy Industry Committee was looking for a fresh face to fight milk's bad PR, including reports that nuclear fallout from bomb tests was contaminating dairy farms. Rules for the selection of Princess Kay of the Milky Way--a name chosen from 10,000 entries in a public contest--have changed some over the years; the emphasis shifted from beauty to home-ec excellence to public-relations skills.

Skiba has a degree in animal science from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and a sublime command of her bovine subject matter (she can tell you the optimum udder size for any of the six primary breeds of dairy cows found in the U.S.), not to mention plenty of dairy cred. The 22-year-old was born and raised on a dairy farm outside North Branch, about an hour north of the Twin Cities. And while denying strenuously that appearance has anything to do with the Princess Kay selection, Skiba, like most of her recent predecessors, is a cutie who proves that big hair is still très chic in royalty circles.

Not acceptable, by contrast, are big bellies: Contest rules state that Princess Kay will lose her crown if she gets married or has a bun in the oven during her reign. "They don't want you to get tied down," Skiba says, "so you can go to various events throughout the year. I don't see anything wrong with it. They're looking for a youthful, wholesome, quality dairy girl to represent the dairy industry." Last year Skiba averaged four appearances a month, earning $40 a pop, fielding dairy questions at events like the Minnesota Broadcasters Association's annual dinner, and giving milker-unit demonstrations in grade school classrooms--all tasks bravely performed while wearing her rhinestone tiara.

Though Skiba isn't certain whether the Asian economic crisis has begun to affect Minnesota dairy farmers, she says right now the industry "is doing great. It contributes $3.5 billion to Minnesota's economy annually." She brushes off worries about corporate buyouts of family farms: "Right now we're losing farmers," she says, "but the number of cows is at a level rate. There's still a lot of milk being produced out there."

And when asked about farmers' complaints about the mandatory fees (about 1.25 percent of a farmer's total sales) collected by the Dairy Association to pay for promotions like, well, herself, Skiba says, "My parents, who are dairy farmers, have no problem with it. You have to promote your product if you want to make any money off it." Unflappable, this particular princess even carries milk cartons to flash at parade hecklers who ask if she's "Got Milk?"

On August 26, the night before the State Fair's gates open, Skiba will relinquish her title to a fresh princess. Ever pragmatic, she has already landed another job, as public relations coordinator for Accelerated Genetics, a Wisconsin-based company that sells dairy and beef cattle semen all over the world. As for the sculpture, "some girls are sentimental about cutting up their butterheads," Skiba concedes. "They keep them in the freezer and never use them, but after two years the butter goes kind of rancid. I cut mine up and melted it down for a corn feed." She laughs. "No one got to roll their corn in my head. But I always wanted to eat my butter, and it was really good-tasting."

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