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SALT LAKE CITY — Ask a food handler at a state fair and that person will likely tell you anything that's deep-fried is a best seller. And deep-fried oddities snag the headlines: deep-fried green Jell-o in Utah, chicken-fried cactus in Texas.
Still, long-time vendors, attendees and organizers of the Utah State Fair say the fair is far from a deep-fried side show, and remains a well-attended event and a relevant venue today for Utah-owned businesses trying to get their names in the public eye.
"This event that we do at the Utah State Fair gives consumers an opportunity to see quality Utah companies and to sample those foods," said Seth Winterton with Utah's Own about a taste-testing event held on Day One of the 2012 fair. "The best way for us to incorporate a Utah product is for people to taste it, to sample it, to savor it and then to ask for it."
Several business owners at Thursday's taste-testing said they'd had great results in previous years connecting with people and interesting them in their products.
"We get food bloggers and we get different people writing up about our products and it lets people know that we're here," said Laurie Seron, who was showing off her Laurie's Buffalo Gourmet tortilla chips.
- Runs Sept. 6 - 16
- More information: www.utahstatefair.com
Far away from the food realm, Clay Zimmerman said the fair serves as the only advertising of the year for his business, High Uinta Pack Goats.
"Far as I know, I am the only person in the nation that rents goats to people as pack animals," Zimmerman said. "I'll be getting people saying, 'I've seen you at the State Fair five, six years ago - are you still doing goats?' Yes."
Utah State Fair executive director Clark Caras said the fair attracted 292,000 people over 11 days in 2011, and he hoped the number might surpass 300,000 in 2012. He characterized the state of the event as strong. It has finished "in the black," he said, every year in recent memory. A review of the 2011 annual financial report shows the fair finished in the black in 2011 by $62,261, but that included a $675,100 state appropriation.
He also pointed to the fair's ability to land acts like impersonator Frank Caliendo, Lonestar and Blues Traveler.
"Obviously we are no longer a one-horse town," Caras said. Caras said the fair and the 65-acre park that houses it are working to solidify and shape their future. A report recommending best use of the grounds is expected back in the next six weeks.
"The agricultural story is a story that has always been a part of the fair park - always will be." Clark Caras
He expressed optimism and hope that the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food may choose to locate a new headquarters on the ground. He also said the hope would be those plans might include a center where people of various ages could learn about the state's agricultural heritage.
"The agricultural story is a story that has always been a part of the fair park - always will be," Caras said. Department of Agriculture and Food spokesman Larry Lewis confirmed the department was desperately in need of a new building and it was on a state priority list. However, he characterized any discussions about the department's future headquarters only as "talks" and said the fair park was just one of a number of possible sites for the building.
Lewis also said it was unclear when in the future the state may green-light the project.
Neighbors who live around the fair park expressed their hopes that the site would thrive in the future. Rick Clark said he gets a yearly boost by allowing people to park in his yard for a fee.
"We look forward to the fair because of the money. The bums are moving on, the hookers can't hang around, so yeah," Clark said.