State Fair, a real family affair

by Bob Grawey

Staff writer

If enthusiasm was a judged competition at the Minnesota State Fair, then Dustin Sims would certainly be a favorite for one of those big purple ribbons given out for the best of the best.

As it is, though, the Rogers man must look with a jealous eye at his wife’s fifth-place ribbon she won for her carrot cake.

He is still seeking his first ribbon for showing his salsa or spaghetti.

Sims’ love affair with the state fair goes back to his childhood days in Oklahoma.

“One of my most endearing memories of my youth was watching my grandmother can her fresh vegetables and jellies for storage in the root cellar,” Sims recalls. “She would can and bake for a solid month, then select the best of her best for competition in the Oklahoma State Fair. We used to love to go up and look to see if her items had won.”

He says going to county fairs, and especially the Oklahoma State Fair, made him feel more connected with his entire state, rather than just his local community.

In 2001, Sims became a Minnesota transplant. He then met and married his wife, Kelly, in 2003.

That same year, she took him to the Minnesota State Fair and it sparked a fire.

“We went into the Creative Arts building and I saw all this stuff people made,” Sims says. “Then I saw salsas and I said, ‘I can do that!’”

The following year Sims made two salsas to enter into the state fair, but one proved a little warm for the judges.

Dustin Sims eyes his wife, Kelly's, ribbon she won at the Minnesota State Fair, something that has alluded him since he began entering his salsa in 2004

“These little ladies; I think the youngest was 75,” Sims grins through his Oklahoma drawl. “They made the comment, ‘It was so hot, you could only taste hot.’ I had to tone it down the next year for the Scandinavians.”

Jokingly, Sims threatened to pour catsup in a jar and enter it, but he continued to work on and to perfect his salsa recipes. Everyone he knew became a tester for his latest batch.

In the meantime, Sims talked Kelly into entering her family-favorite carrot cake recipe. It took fifth place and garnered her a ribbon on her first try.

Sims has eyed that ribbon ever since with mock indignation.

His best finish so far has also been fifth place, but in the salsa category there is no ribbon for a fifth-place finish.

“Do it right the first time,” Kelly says, as she throws her hands into the air and shrugs.

Sims laughs and slumps deeper into his chair, “This year. This is my year.”

Seven-year-old Grace Kelly Sims with her state fair entry

The couple’s 7-year-old daughter, Grace Kelly, has gotten in the spirit of state fair competition as well, entering a painting this year. It is her first time entering anything in any fair and her dad beams his approval.

“She created a truly remarkable watercolor painting she calls “Mom and Dad in Love.” It’s a heart in the middle of the canvas surrounded by pastel colors coming from the heart,” Sims explains. “She demanded we enter it in the fair so everyone in the state could look at it. Cheeky little monkey, isn’t she?”

Sims confides he does not actually care if he wins a ribbon or not.

“It’s just fun,” he says, “and instead of us just going to the fair, we are part of it. It makes me feel connected to the whole state.”

That must be what fair officials envisioned when they established the “Great Minnesota Get-Together.”