Blue Ribbon Blog

Welcome to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s blog!

We are a non-profit organization with a mission to raise funds for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Since our inception in 1993, the Foundation has raised more than $165 million through individual contributions, state appropriations, in-kind services, and corporate, federal and state grants.

Please follow our blog to learn more about our organization.

Warm Thoughts & Bundle Up

January 20, 2022
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When the wind chill is negative degrees for multiple days, all you can do is think warm thoughts and bundle up. The Blue Ribbon Foundation can help you with both!

Imagine walking down Grand Avenue in the middle of August on a hot day in the sun. You just finished eating your favorite fried food on a stick. You picked up a bottle of ice-cold Mountain Valley Spring Water from the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s stand. You head into the Horner Service Center to check out the new Iowa State Fair souvenirs. Sounds like a perfect day.

Flashback to reality! As we patiently wait 7 months until Fair time, you can add a warm Iowa State Fair sweatshirt to your winter wardrobe to help make these cold days much better. Or maybe you need a Butter Cow stocking hat to wear as you shovel the driveway. There are also socks with all your Fair Favorites available for sale - Chocolate Chip Cookies, Butter Cow, or Corndogs

Thank you for not only supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission during the summer while attending the Iowa State Fair but ALL year long. Thank you for your donations in the spring, fall and winter months when the Iowa State Fair isn’t always at the top of mind. Your contributions throughout the year go toward improving the Fairgrounds. 
This winter the Fairgrounds will stay busy with the buildings nice and toasty hosting several events. Trades shows, go-kart races, a circus, a concert, flea market, wrestling meet, and even a cat show will be held on the Fairgrounds. These events are made possible because the buildings are well maintained all year long. And again, that’s because of your support. Thank you.

We hope all our Fairgoers stay warm as we make it through this season. Let’s just remember that summer and the Iowa State Fair are worth the wait!


The AG Extravaganza of Iowa

January 14, 2022
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Flipping through “Our State Fair – Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story” is always entertaining and educational. The section titled “The Ag Extravaganza of Iowa” is full of interesting information.

Some people go to the Fair and don’t take in anything even remotely connected with agriculture. Oh, my! Are they missing a lot! Where else can you see Big Daddy, a Duroc purebred board that weighs 1,062 pounds? Or watch bees make honey while you’re eating honey? Or clap for Champions on Parade?

Whether you live on a farm or occasionally drive by one, you ought to take in the agriculture side of the Fair. Agriculture, after all, is why the Iowa State Agriculture Society established an annual exposition. The event was to be a simple showcase, primarily of stock and grains. Farmers would exchange experiences, discuss breeds of animals, types of grains, the latest inventions and rotation systems, and compete for ribbons showing “meritorious exertion”. More than anything else, the Fair would be a three-day school experience focusing on livestock, produce and machinery.

The Iowa State Fair’s evolution from a simple stock show to today’s agricultural extravaganza is a direct reflection of Iowa’s evolution from an untilled prairie to the very center of the nation’s food production. The Iowa State Fair has been the historical trademark of this progress.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has been raising funds for the restoration and preservation for our beloved Fairgrounds since 1993. The first renovation of Grandfather’s Barn and the first new building constructed, the Service Center, were just the beginning.  One by one, barns and buildings across the Fairgrounds were improved. From unseen electrical updates or simple restroom improvements, to construction of a state-of-the-art exhibition center, the Blue Ribbon Foundation has been determined to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds one of the best.

The Foundation has been able to offer the Corndog Checkoff as a way for Iowans to financially support our efforts. While completing your Iowa State Tax Return, simply give a donation for the Iowa State Fairgrounds and provide a reliable source of funding for future renovations, building enhancements and maintenance to the Fairgrounds, ensuring the Fair will be a grand tradition for generations to come. Your donation will be deducted from your refund or added to the amount due. Contributions to the Corndog Checkoff are fully tax-deductible.

The Iowa State Fair is the true, ever-changing reflection of what’s best about Iowa. Over the years the Fair has never veered from one of its primary purposes - the enhancement of agriculture.

Mark Your Calendar

January 7, 2022
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After another great holiday spent with family and friends - the Blue Ribbon Foundation staff is back at work, and for me, it seems busier than ever.

Most of my friends assume that this is a slow time of year (there are still 215 days until the Iowa State Fair) but there are plenty of projects that need work all year round. Currently I am working on the winter newsletter and starting to plan the annual Corndog Kickoff. This month, I’ll continue promoting membership programs and update merchandise inventory.

I’m looking forward to 2022 and all that it will bring. Stay update-to-date with the Blue Ribbon Foundation by adding a few specific dates to your calendar.

February 5: Hairball with special guest The Pork Tornadoes concert in the Jacobson Exhibition Center – Tickets on Sale

March 31: Deadline for Giving Program items to be placed by Fair 2022 - Buy A Brick, Growing Our Future, Spirit of Generosity

April 15: Date to have your taxes filed. The Corndog Checkoff is an easy way to support the Foundation on your Iowa Tax Return.

May 1: Deadline to have your Iowa State Fair T-Shirt Design Contest entry submitted. 

June 1: Volunteers can start signing up to sell water and merchandise during the Iowa State Fair.

June 15: Deadline to join the 2022 T.A.G. Team. This year’s project is renovating the west side of Pioneer Hall. 

July 1: Deadline for Iowan of the Day applications

July 9: Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party - Patron and ticket information will be available this spring.

August 11 - 21: Iowa State Fair - "Find Your Fun"

August 21: Watch for details about the online portion of the 2022 Woodcarver’s Auction.

Join our email mailing list to get the inside scoop on Blue Ribbon Foundation events and activities delivered right to your inbox! We send out monthly emails to keep you updated on what's happening at the Foundation.

2021 Highlights

December 13, 2021
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The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation wants to celebrate this past year. We are thankful for so many things. Below are a few 2021 highlights that stick out in my mind.

January: Launched the 2021 T.A.G. Team. Thank you to the 100 donors that helped upgrade the lighting in the Agriculture Building. Did you miss joining the group? We already created the 2022 T.A.G. Team project - check it out.

February: Promoted the Corndog Checkoff as a way for Fairgoers to give a donation when filing their Iowa Taxes.

March: Collected all giving program donations and inscriptions. Welcomed the newest Blue Ribbon Foundation family member.

April: Held a T-Shirt Design Contest with awesome participation. The winning design was the most popular shirt sold during the Iowa State Fair. We want to continue this fun activity in 2022.

May: Welcomed Reegan, Kara, Megan and Gabby to our staff as interns. These ladies went above and beyond to help make the Blue Ribbon Foundation a success! Thank you!

June: Recruited, organized and scheduled 600 volunteers. Crews worked on the new Elwell Family Park. The Tractor Pull, Monster Trucks and Demolition Derby were fantastic additions to the 2021 Fair.

July: Hosted our annual Corndog Kickoff and raised an unbelievable $754,301 for future renovations to the Fairgrounds. The new murals were also completed.


August: Celebrated 10 Iowan of the Day winners at the Iowa State Fair. Generated more than $631,000 in fundraising with merchandise sales, water sales and BINGO!

September: Recovered from the Fair. Cleaned the office. Took a vacation. 

October: Crews continued to clean up the Iowa State Fairgrounds and prepare buildings for rentals. With livestock shows, weddings and corporate events - there was something happening every weekend on the Fairgrounds.

November: Peter and Meg attended the IAFE (International Association of Fairs & Expositions) Convention to learn and share ideas to improve the Foundation. And bring home our awards!

December: Sold and shipped State Fair merchandise for the holidays. Most popular items were the State Fair BBQ Sauce, Puzzle and the Butter Cow socks.

As the Blue Ribbon Foundation counts down to the New Year, there is so much to be excited about in 2022. With constructions projects and new fundraising opportunities, we are ready to continue improving the historic Fairgrounds.

There is one countdown that is always on my mind… only 240 days until the 2022 Iowa State Fair. There is plenty to do between now and August. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is grateful for every volunteer and donor that supports our work. We wish only the best to you and your family in 2022!

Toot Toot!

December 2, 2021
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation has a special reason to toot our own horn! The Iowa State Fair received multiple 2021 International Association of Fairs and Expositions Awards of Excellence. Specifically two for the Blue Ribbon Foundation's work. The first place awards were in the “Non Fair Facility Usage” contests.

Yes, the Blue Ribbon Foundation entered the contests but really it’s our donors that supported the idea and made the concept a reality. They are the real award winners!

The first award was in the “Facility Beautification Project” category. The Blue Ribbon Foundation submitted the mural project. The Iowa State Fairgrounds is a beautiful park-like facility with grand, exposition-style architecture, lush landscaping and public art. It is a point of pride for the city of Des Moines and our state and serves as an economic generator, hosting more than 350+ event days throughout the year. It is hard to imagine how transforming one non-descript building into a welcoming feature on the Fairgrounds can revive an area and make it a focal point for capturing a family’s visit but the mural project did.

This small beautification project added visual interest for all guests walking (or even driving) by during their visit to the Iowa State Fairgrounds and provides a backdrop for families to take their photos, year after year. At the 2021 Fair, you could not pass the murals without seeing someone taking a picture of a friend, their family or even for a complete stranger. The smiles were contagious. A special thank you to the Meredith Corporation Foundation, Liz Lidgett Gallery and James Navarro for the support of the mural project.

The second award was for the category “Creative Funding for Facility Projects”. The Blue Ribbon Foundation submitted the T.A.G. Team. The goal was to engage 100 donors to make an immediate, positive and direct impact by tackling needed maintenance. For a $250 donation, the first 100 supporters were accepted into this unique group. It was a simple concept; Together we can Accomplish our Goals, creatively establishing the T.A.G. Team.

The T.A.G. Team was a success because it was a simple concept for donors to grasp. It was a well-defined, small project that needed to be completed; one that Fairgoers could easily visualize and be proud to help complete. And, one that was financial within reach for the vast majority of our audience.

The 2022 T.A.G. Team is currently recruiting members. This year’s project will repair the west side of Pioneer Hall’s exterior. The process of renovating the building’s entire exterior started in 2018. Finishing the west side of the building will complete the restoration project. Read more about the project and join the team. 

Again, these are only two of the many IAFE contest awards the Iowa State Fair received across the categories of Sponsorship, Competitive Exhibits, Marketing and Agriculture. Just another reason Iowans can be proud of their State Fair! 

Make Your Summer Plans

November 8, 2021
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Attention college students – it’s time to make your summer plans! Do you love the Iowa State Fair? Do you enjoy taking on a challenge and seeing it through? Do you want to help Iowans share their favorite summertime tradition with the next generation?

Join the Blue Ribbon Foundation's team as a 2022 intern. You will gain valuable work experience, network with people from across the state and learn skills to start your career.

There won’t be time for delivering coffee or mindless grunt work. (Well...there is usually time for coffee!) You will be responsible for your own individual projects throughout the summer. There are opportunities for you to showcase your current talents to help improve our organization.

The deadline to apply for our internship is November 30. There is more information on our website or email if you have any questions.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation staff takes pride in getting the work done but having fun along the way. We'd love for you to join us. 


2021 Interns:

New T.A.G. Team Project

October 28, 2021
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 The Blue Ribbon Foundation created the T.A.G. Team to bring like-minded, Fair-loving individuals together to make the Iowa State Fairgrounds an even better place. It was a simple concept; Together we can Accomplish our Goals. So far, T.A.G. Team members have supported the renovation of the east restroom in the Livestock Pavilion and upgraded lighting in the Agriculture Building.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is once again looking for 100 donors who want to make an immediate, positive and direct impact on our historic Fairgrounds by tackling a smaller renovation project. Money raised from the 2022 T.A.G. Team will be used to repair the west side of Pioneer Hall’s exterior.

The process of renovating the building’s entire exterior started in 2018. Finishing the west side of the building will complete the restoration project. The deteriorated wood siding will be removed and replaced to resemble the original construction. Missing building components will be restored while the entire west exterior will be primed and painted.

The project includes the removal or if possible, restoration of existing window sashes. Some windows are repairable while others will be rebuilt to match current size, material and profile. Windows will also be reglazed using the current glass, supplementing new ones if panes are broken or missing.

Pioneer Hall was built in 1886 for the first Iowa State Fair held at this location. Of the 67 buildings constructed for that Fair, only Pioneer Hall remains. Originally a poultry building, then an employees’ dormitory and a storage facility, Pioneer Hall was re-opened in 1996 after the replacement of the foundation and footings.

The facility houses antique displays, music and the Rural Americana Olde Tyme Competitions. All ages participate in the famous cow chip or rubber chicken throwing contests. There is also yodeling, joke telling and husband calling competitions. Fairgoers can watch a furniture maker, blacksmith and printer showcase their trades, or enjoy the sounds created by fiddlers.

For a $250 donation, only 100 donors will be accepted into this unique group. Your name will be listed as a key player in the renovation project and you will receive a commemorative pin to denote your membership in the 2022 T.A.G. Team.

We welcome your participation in our T.A.G. Team so Together we can Accomplish our Goals. Join Today!


Find Your Fun!

October 18, 2021
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The ISF Marketing Department announced the theme for the 2022 Iowa State Fair last week: Find Your Fun - Find Your Fun at the Iowa State Fair, August 11-21, 2022!

Do you make plans to eat the newest Fair foods and take in a show, or do you show livestock before experiencing a night at the Fair? We're looking forward to all of the ways that we can find fun in 2022!


The new graphics are colorful and feature everything we love about the Iowa State Fair- music, food, rides, and livestock. While we patiently wait for next summer, there are ways you can start “finding your Iowa State Fair fun” by supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

Iowa State Fair Swag. What’s more fun than showing your love for the Butter Cow than with custom socks, baseball hat, stocking cap or a keychain? Just like your favorite sports team – the Butter Cow has it’s own fan club.  Check out the online State Fair Store.

With the holidays right around the corner, give the Fair lover in your life ISF blue ribbon winning BBQ Sauce or Salsa. A corndog candle, puzzle or Go Fish playing cards make great gifts.

Engraved Brick. What is your favorite spot on the Fairgrounds? What building do you visit first? Is riding the Sky Glider a “must-do” before you leave? Commemorate your State Fair fun with an engraved brick. Some of my favorite inscriptions include “MY FIRST FAIR”, “CORNDOG LOVER” and other personal inside jokes. For a $100 donation, you can support the Blue Ribbon Foundation while leaving your mark on the Fairgrounds.  

Enjoy the Fairgrounds year-round by attending an event. Almost every weekend, there is something happening on the grounds. With tradeshows, cheerleading competitions, or craft sales - the historic buildings are utilized for visitors to enjoy. Are you and your significant other “Fair People”? Consider having your wedding or anniversary party on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Buildings can be rented all year long - read more

Your donation not only improves the Fairgrounds for the 11-day celebration in August but helps maintain the buildings for use the other 11 months of the year.  

There is plenty of FUN while fundraising for a special place like the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Iowans take pride in the event and the Blue Ribbon Foundation takes pride in making sure family traditions will last forever. Join in our fun and donate today.  

Did you see THAT during the Iowa State Fair?

October 6, 2021
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There is so much to see and do at the Iowa State Fair. With a million people gathering on the 445 acres of the Fairgrounds and only 11 days to explore your favorite activities and new attractions, the Blue Ribbon Foundation knows it can be hard to see it all. 

Reichardt Family Giant Slide: 
Did you take a ride down the Reichardt Family Giant Slide in its new location north of the FFA Buildings?  This year the slide celebrated 50 years of making people “whoop” with enjoyment!  The slide itself was repainted and placed on an all-new structure. The Blue Ribbon Foundation staff took a ride!


Bruce Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building:  
Did you see the beautiful interior of the renovated 4-H Building? Yes, the renovation of the building was completed in 2020 but the space was finally filled with one of the most important aspects of the Iowa State Fair – the youth! 4-Her’s displayed projects and gave presentations in the new classrooms.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s newest giving program, the Spirit of Generosity, was also on full display in the west atrium. It’s the perfect way to support future Fairgrounds improvements and showcase your name in a unique piece of art.


Four Interns: 
Did you see four interns running around like crazy? Ha! Maybe the first few days of the Fair were crazy for these ladies but they did an amazing job. You could have seen an intern checking in volunteers, restocking merchandise or introducing an Iowan of the Day winner.

Each intern is a true member of the Blue Ribbon Foundation team, having significant responsibility for integral Foundation programs and making sure committed donors have a strong and lasting relationship with the Iowa State Fair. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is looking for the next set of interns. Check out the 2022 internship information on our website. 


For now, we’ll keep reminiscing about the amazing things and people we saw during the 2021 Iowa State Fair. Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation. You can soon be on the lookout for improvements coming to the Fairgrounds for 2022.  

Blue Ribbon Beautification Project

September 29, 2021
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Did you see the beautiful murals on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in August? If you missed seeing the new artwork, come out to the Fairgrounds to look for yourself. The photos don’t do them justice. Adding the murals to the Fairgrounds were one of the many highlights of the summer – a true beautification project.

Public art adds enormous value to the culture of a community. When traveling across Iowa, in rural and urban communities alike, you will discover their individual charm and community awareness expressed through architecture, murals and art installations. Public art contributes to a community's identity, fosters pride and a sense of belonging.

The Iowa State Fair hosts the state’s largest art show highlighting exhibits in fine arts, photography, and creative arts but these works were only present during the Fair. The Fairgrounds needed to reflect Iowans’ creativity throughout the year and adding public art was the perfect way to do so. Over the past decade, the Iowa State Fairgrounds has taken the opportunity to add more public art but desired to have something that truly made a statement and was a welcoming, interactive design for any visitor.

Located in the southwest section of the Iowa State Fairgrounds is a concrete block building that houses an electrical sub-station. It is a very non-descript building sitting across from one of the Fairgrounds’ busiest entry gates, the gate where all of our Park-&-Ride buses drop off and pick up. It also sits at an intersection within the grounds that is used throughout the year as visitors attend events at the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, the Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building, the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building and the four livestock barns. Plus, it can be seen from the road as people drive by going about their everyday lives.

The concept was to use a local artist to create a mural on each of the four sides of the building. The Liz Lidgett Gallery coordinated the project and recommended local artist and Fair-lover James Navarro. The challenge – the art for the mural had to represent all areas of the Iowa State Fair – food, rides, 4-H, FFA, art, horticulture, camping, families, entertainment, competition, animals, etc. There had to be something within one of the four paintings that anyone could relate to.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation brought the mural idea and concepts to the Fair Board and submitted a grant request to the Meredith Corporation Foundation. Meredith had supported the Foundation in its infancy with in-kind advertisements but had never found a project that was truly the right fit to form a partnership.

When the mural concept was presented to the Meredith Corporation Foundation board, they easily approved it, providing 100% of the funding for the painting and design costs, $15,000. The Foundation covered costs for full artistic rights to the images and the application of a protective coating. The Meredith Corporation is well-known for its commitment to arts and culture and was thrilled to help improve the historic Fairgrounds.

The Iowa State Fairgrounds is a beautiful park-like facility with grand, exposition-style architecture, lush landscaping and public art. It is a point of pride for the city of Des Moines and our state and serves as an economic generator, hosting more than 350+ event days throughout the year. It is hard to imagine how transforming one non-descript building into a welcoming feature on the Fairgrounds can revive an area and make it a focal point for capturing a family’s visit but this project did.

This small beautification project adds visual interest for all guests walking (or even driving) by during their visit to the Iowa State Fairgrounds and provides a backdrop for families to take their photos, year after year. At the 2021 Fair, you could not pass the murals without seeing someone taking a picture of a friend, their family or even for a complete stranger. The smiles were contagious.

Thank you again to the Meredith Corporation Foundation, Liz Lidgett Gallery and James Navarro for making the concept a reality. Send us your family picture in front of the mural – it will definitely be one of the Foundation staff’s new traditions.

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