It’s mid-August, the dog days of summer, and that means state fair season is upon us. Across the country, states from Alabama to Wyoming host their own distinct celebrations, typically timed with the harvest season of late summer and fall. Historically, state fairs were large-scale gatherings intended to demonstrate a state’s agricultural prowess, from the impossibly huge pumpkins and prize pigs raised on local farms to the fruit pies baked in country kitchens. Today, though, their character is changing.
We sent photographer KC McGinnis to the Iowa State Fair—one of the country’s largest and longest-running fairs, expected to host a million visitors between August 9 – 19. Unsurprisingly, the Iowans he encountered are still full of farm pride. And yet, as McGinnis describes in the photoessay that follows, Iowa seems to be slowly redefining its relationship to its agricultural heritage. While farming still dominates the state’s landscape, fewer and fewer Iowans are directly involved themselves. Maybe that’s why the event McGinnis encountered had a more nostalgic feel—it’s less about the modern realities of farming than preserving cultural memories of it.
Below, the people, foods, and farm animals of the Iowa State Fair—a state’s homage to its increasingly distant past.
— The editors