Rubin: At the State Fair, it’s town, country and goats
One of the goats Laura Coon trucked in from Ionia County is black and white. People keep asking her if it’s a cow.
Other people try to feed her goats straw, which might look a bit like hay but would be the same thing as you eating your mattress.
Welcome to the new-fangled Michigan State Fair, where the smell of corn dogs isn’t baked into the asphalt the way it used to be, but where city still meets country the same way it did in 1849.
What used to be the nation’s second-oldest state fair expired in 2009, a victim of dwindling attendance and budget cuts. Three years later, it was resurrected as the Michigan State Fair LLC at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, where it runs through 9 p.m. Monday with all of the requisite rides, many of the requisite blue ribbons and at least some of the requisite earnest ignorance.
Yes, goats give milk. No, they don’t eat tin cans.
“I like to educate people about goats,” said Coon, 21, as the crowd began to pick up Sunday morning, “so I get a kick out of the silly questions.”
The visitors to the livestock area get a kick out of the animals, so everybody wins — except for a couple of pigs.
One of them was the recipient earlier in the weekend of a 4-year-old’s finger in a place a pig would not normally expect to experience it. The other was a sow named Betty, displayed in a pen with four piglets by 15-year-old Baylee Huff of Durand.
“I don’t want to say she’s a bad mother,” Baylee said, “but she’s a bad mother.”
The piglets — and no, Baylee kept explaining, they are not miniature pigs — were the only survivors of a litter of 13, most of them done in by Betty’s clumsiness, indifference or incompetence. Barnyard life can be cruel, as Betty will soon learn: in two weeks, today’s state fair exhibit will become someone’s breakfast.
But that’s behind the scenes. Sprawled across the parking lot and exhibit halls of the convention center, the privately owned had a familiar look and even fragrance, albeit on a smaller scale than it enjoyed in 104 years at the old fairgrounds along Woodward Avenue south of Eight Mile.
“This really is the modern model,” said executive director Steve Masters. Rather than build and maintain expensive buildings on a large and otherwise largely unused parcel of land, the fair sets up four days before opening and clears out a day after the close, with everything gone including the pungent aroma of hundreds of animals.
“Every single filter gets changed,” he said, and the replacements are dabbed with an odor eliminator that smells like cotton candy. By the time the Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition shows up Wednesday, the only remnant of the five-day event will be a faint yearning for spun sugar.
Cotton candy is available on the midway, of course, along with elephant ears, Oreos on a stick and chicken on a stick. If a state fair stand sold kale, it would be on a stick — and fried.
In a tent west of the main building, past a construction project that’s adding 175,000 square feet, the Shrine Circus will hold performances at noon, 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Monday. Under the even bigger top of the showplace, the livestock shares space with championship ears of corn, radishes, carrots and silk flower arrangements. There’s a 520-pound pumpkin, the classic butter cow and an array of vendors.
The overarching goal, Masters said, is to present the splendor of Michigan, with the occasional detour to a booth with purses made of African fabric by an artisan from Arkansas.
In the bus driver booth, Nichole Troutman of Waterford called out to passers-by: “Hey, gorgeous. Hey, handsome. I see you.” The state trooper didn’t say any of that.
Dawn Sommers of Davisburg sold Dog Gone Delicious Dog Treats, manufactured in her kitchen when she’s not teaching fifth grade in Oak Park. There were peanut butter cookies for $1, pretzels for $2 and bags of Blueberry Bichon Bites for $5.
Her late and current Shih Tzus have been her taste testers, she said, and she’s been known to take a sample bite herself. If her target market doesn’t like them, she’s never heard any complaints.
The fair, presented by Ram Truck, is designed to be a geographic and demographic cross-section, Masters said. It’s working.
There were little boys in Batman shirts and at least one woman in a burka. A millennial with pink hair and a lavishly pierced lip stopped to talk with a woman spinning yarn, and three generations of a family with roots in India stopped to clap at the chicks who had recently escaped their eggs in an incubator.
Back in the livestock pens, Coon — who does business in Lyons with her mother as Udderly Nutz Dairy Goats — was saying she liked the old state fair a bit better.
It had dirt floors instead of a slab, more livestock and a memorable candy shop, and the agriculture kids all ate donuts and drank chocolate milk every morning for two weeks. In Detroit, she said, she met more wide-eyed kids who’d never seen farm animals before, and she liked talking to them.
But those are observations, not grievances. Her principal complaint is one that should make the owner of the new fair crow like a rooster:
She wishes it was longer.