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From pulled pork to politics, Iowa State Fair is all things Iowa

Brief rain Thursday kicked off Des Moines fair's 11-day run

DES MOINES — For the last three decades or so, Dave Bousfield from Iowa City has been bringing his wife, children and now grandchildren to the Iowa State Fair.

It’s just “so much Iowa,” his wife said.

The Bousfield family by far was not the only contingent checking out the Iowa State Fair on its opening day Thursday with classics like funnel cakes, farm shows and fried foods beckoning. These days, craft beers and art galleries lure people to the fair, too.

Unexpected rain

The iconic Grand Concourse, flanked by the 110-year-old Iowa State Fair Grandstand, had a relatively empty look Thursday morning.

A rainstorm caught many first-day fairgoers by surprise without an umbrella or rain jacket, forcing them to move indoors or wait to enter.

“We were collecting rain in our buckets,” Bousfield said.

But it allowed Carolyn and Larry Swanda from the Granger area to get in some shopping time. They weren’t expecting the rain, either.

“It got darker and darker,” Carolyn Swanda said.

Crowds gradually filled the park after the rain stopped and the fair got into full swing.

Array of animals

The Iowa State Fair has all the usual animals — like cows and chickens — one would expect.

But Mikayla VonBehren from Anamosa was showing a different animal: a horse.

VonBehren, 17, is in her second year showing Winston at the State Fair and already has experienced plenty of success.

She was a grand champion in one class and made it to the finals in another. She started showing Winston in Des Moines earlier this week.

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“It’s so much fun. It’s all the excitement and the people wanting to meet the horses,” VonBehren said.

Food favorites

Carolyn Swanda has kept coming back to the Iowa State Fair for the last 52 years for one key thing: food.

The fair’s food offerings are much different from what people experienced in 1967.

New food and drink offerings include Apple Cider Shake Up, Boozy Apple Pecan Caramel, the Corn Stalker Cocktail and a funnel cake-flavored beer.

One of the finalists for the best new fair food was “The Chief” at the Rib Shack. It features fried bread, the choice of beef brisket or pulled pork, a cilantro-lime slaw and a “salsa cream drizzle.”

The line to try “The Chief” often stretched 15 to 20 people back. Yet not all fairgoers are on board with the new selections.

“We’re avoiding them,” said Steve Bereza, who is from Solon and now lives in Pennsylvania. Bousfield and his family also stick to more typical fair food choices.

He gets a pork chop on a stick, and his 4 and 7-year-old grandchildren get corn dogs. The ice cream and egg on a stick are also popular Bousfield traditions.

Carolyn Swanda also has her favorites, including a lamb burger, turkey leg and sausage.

And that was in just the first few hours.

“We’re just getting started,” Larry Swanda said.

Politics for some

Any politics junkie can get his or her fix at the Iowa State Fair.

Thursday, the first two presidential candidates of many to come took to the soapbox — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Vice President Joe Biden.

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When Steve and Mary Bereza, who held Biden political signs but say they aren’t locked in on voting from him, knew they would be able to get from Pennsylvania to the Iowa State Fair, seeing Biden was a must.

Others are happy just to participate in the corn-kernel poll, where fairgoers can drop a corn kernel in a jar with their preferred candidate on it.

“We put the corn kernel in the jar,” Carolyn Swanda said. “That’s about it.”

But some try to avoid the politics altogether.

“It doesn’t interest me,” Bousfield said. “That’s not the attraction for me at State Fair.”

The Iowa State Fair in Des Moines runs through Aug. 18. Admission tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 6 to 11. That doesn’t include extras like getting into grandstand events.

For details, directions, schedules and more, visit iowastatefair.org or call 1-800-545-FAIR.

l Comments: john.steppe@thegazette.com

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