No weed, more security: 5 things to know for the 2023 Minnesota State Fair

Published 2:59 pm Thursday, July 13, 2023

By Dana Ferguson, Minnesota Public Radio News

With a little more than a month before the start of the Great Minnesota Get Together, Minnesota State Fair officials are entering the final grind to get ready for the 12-day event.

That means bringing on thousands of part-time workers, announcing new food items for the year and solidifying security and safety policies.

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State Fair CEO Renee Alexander spoke with MPR News about what she’s working on and a little more about what fairgoers can expect.

1) Leaders are boosting security efforts

Alexander said that after shootings on or near the fairgrounds last year, officials are doubling their security budget compared to 2019 and making connections between the fair’s police force, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and federal police agencies.

“We have our own chief and assistant chief and their whole winter has been spent spending time, setting relationships and partnerships with Homeland Security, BCA, adding additional cameras, doing work around the perimeter,” Alexander said. “(Security) is just a constant, we’ve more than doubled our budget on safety and security this year.”

Last year the fair closed early after a gunshot was reported near the Mighty Midway. Days later a man was hospitalized after he was shot near the fairgrounds.

2) You can’t smoke weed at the fair

Although it will become legal in Minnesota to possess, use and grow marijuana starting Aug. 1, the fair will prohibit smoking cannabis on its grounds. The fair has legal autonomy similar to a municipality and can set parameters within its area.

And Alexander said that means no lighting up — at least for now.

“The smoking of marijuana is still not allowed in public, it’s still prohibited in public. So we will follow those guidelines just like other public places will,” she said. “We’re not moving forward with any type of sales or anything at this point as it relates to marijuana. We’ll give it some time.”

The State Fair board could weigh rule changes later that allow for marijuana use and consumption at the fair, Alexander said. But with limited infrastructure for enforcement, she said it won’t be allowed in 2023.

3) It’s unofficially the year of the pickle

Minnesotans likely picked up on a trend as fair officials announced their line up of new food items this week — there will be a lot of pickles.

And that’s not a coincidence, Alexander said. After last year’s success with the pickle pizza, food vendors submitted ideas for lots and lots of pickle-forward options. And as the menu would suggest, many were approved.

“There’s certainly a theme of it. It appears to be the year of the pickles,” Alexander said. “So there’s beverages, there’s food items that have a dill or pickle-inspired flavors.”

4) Officials are entering hiring push

Ahead of the fair’s opening, officials are aiming to hire 3,000 part-time workers to staff the 12-day event. That’s on top of the army of employees that vendors bring in, volunteers and 80 full-time fair staff.

Alexander said the fair has a 50 percent retention rate for its part-time staff and hopes to find the rest through job fairs, recruitment campaigns and other efforts. She acknowledged that it can be tough given the current job market.

“It’s a big undertaking,” Alexander said. “It’s a great place to work for 12 days, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great way to make lifelong friends and get that last minute injection of cash into your bank account before fall hits.”

5) Five shows are poised to sell out

And with a little more than a month before the fair’s gates open, Alexander said there are at least five concerts that are on track to sell out.

The Chicks, Keith Urban, Brandi Carlisle, Duran Duran and the Jonas Brothers are currently pacing to sell out their shows, Alexander said.