Fans of mini doughnuts and deep-fried pickles no longer need to wait until the last two weeks of August.
The Great Minnesota Get-Together (and many county fairs) were canceled for 2020 because of the concern that large gatherings could spread COVID-19. But that hasn’t stopped fair food vendors from turning on the fryers.
Many vendors are setting up in parking lots, on roadsides, and even at dormant fairgrounds across the state. And Minnesotans are driving out of their way to get their fair-themed snacks, with a Facebook group and an interactive map as their guide.
Lori Lexvold and her son Ian Lexvold manage the 90,000-member-strong Fair Food Finder group on Facebook. Lori, a lifelong attendee originally from Roseville, launched the group after the news that this year’s Minnesota State Fair was not to be.
“The loss of not having the state fair this year was very upsetting, and I thought, what better way to help out those food vendors that make their livelihood over the year from the Minnesota State Fair or any of the county fairs — how can we help them?”
She invited 100 of her Facebook friends to join and contribute information about food tents and carts that had been popping up, such as this Faribault woman who is selling Pronto Pups from her driveway. She launched it a little over two weeks ago.
By the end of last week, there were about 15,000 members. That number rose sixfold over the weekend. “It has grown amazingly fast,” Lori Lexvold said.
It has even gotten the attention of Minnesota State Fair leadership. The group’s name was originally “Minnesota State Fair Food Finder,” and the official fair was getting so many inquiries about the list — people requesting changes, or confusing it with the fair’s own “State Fair Food Finder” — that it had to ask the Lexvolds to change the name.
Still, “many of us who work at the fair and love all fair foods are members of the group and plan to support these various stands to get our own fair food fix,” said Minnesota State Fair spokeswoman Lara Hughes.
With the help of a map that Ian Lexvold plotted, group members have been traversing the metro and farther-flung towns seeking out cheese curds, lemonade, fried ice cream and giant turkey legs, and posting photos of their finds. Devotees also share new locations of vendors they spot, and obsessively check others’ posts in hopes of locating a favorite, Ian said.
“Our goal for managing this group is making it as seamless and easy as possible to find food,” said Ian, who usually goes to the State Fair 2 or 3 times a year.
The map began with only 10 entries. It now points to about 3 dozen parking lots of breweries, hardware stores and VFWs that are hosting food stands, trailers and tents making fair-style food. (Those included aren’t necessarily licensed to work the Minnesota State Fair). Some of the locations have multiple vendors.
Lori, who lives in Forest Lake, visited the Anoka County Fairgrounds last weekend and found a mini-fair-turned-tailgating party. There were three food stands selling French fries, cheese curds, mini doughnuts and ice cream.
“People were pulling up in cars, getting food, driving a little ways away, opening up the back of the minivan, and pulling out chairs and sitting there and visiting, making a family event out of it,” Lori said. Tape and chalk X’s on the ground encouraged social distancing in line, she said.
Lori and Ian view their Fair Food Finder as kind of community service — both to food vendors who lost their main source of income, and to the wider community of fair-loving Minnesotans.
“We like repetition,” Lori said. “We like our customs and traditions that we have done with our families for years and years. It’s such a sad thing that it’s not happening,” though she grants that the cancellations are understandable.
“The drive for us in creating this, it’s for those die-hard fairgoers,” Ian said. “This whole summer can be a great Minnesota get-together.”