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 $195 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.

Hear from Peter Cownie, our Executive Director!

July 22, 2022
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Our executive director, Peter Cownie, joined Emily Abbas on the @Bankers Trust Community Difference Makers podcast to talk about the Foundation's mission to raise funds for capital improvements and infrastructure at the Fair and preserve memories families make at the Fair.


Listen to the episode here:

- Brooklin Border, Public Relations Intern

A Historical New Sculpture

July 21, 2022
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Famously known across the state, the Butter Cow is a sight to see at the Iowa State Fair. Visitors wait in line to admire the detailed sculpture hand-crafted each year. As someone who has lived in Des Moines his entire life, growing up only a few blocks from the Fairgrounds, BJ Baker is helping make this significant Iowa State Fair icon more permanent by honoring one of its long-standing creators.

The Butter Cow made its Iowa State Fair debut in 1911. Starting in 1960, Norma “Duffy” Lyon sculpted the Butter Cow for 46 years. As a talented artist, she also created a fiberglass cow-calf sculpture to represent Iowa’s dairy farming roots in 1991. On display in Toledo, Iowa, it was damaged in the derecho of 2020. Iowa State University recognized alumna Duffy’s incredible legacy and wanted to replicate her cow-calf sculpture to display on campus.

This new statue is cast in bronze to withstand weathering, ensuring it will be preserved for decades to come. With ISU’s casting mold, two additional bronze sculptures were created — one to replace the damaged statue in Toledo and one for the Iowa State Fair. BJ Baker, an Iowa State Fair enthusiast, graciously donated $50,000 to fund the project and bring the statue to the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Placed yesterday morning, the sculpture, titled “Duffy’s Cow & Calf,” is displayed outside the Agriculture Building for all Fairgoers to enjoy. “I’ve lived in Des Moines all my life and I felt it was appropriate to support the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and be part of the Butter Cow legacy,” said BJ.   

BJ is the chairmen of Baker Group, a Des Moines based construction company that specializes in mechanical, electrical and plumbing contracting. As members of the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s 1854 Society, BJ and his wife, Tiffany, have been actively involved with the Foundation for over a decade and see the Iowa State Fair as an iconic event for all Iowans. As a regular Fairgoer, some of BJ’s favorite Fair foods he can’t leave without eating are gyros, guinea grinders and of course, corndogs.

You also can find him and Tiffany enjoying the free entertainment as they catch up with old friends. “It’s a reunion of all the people in your life,” said BJ. “Whether it’s from school, work or business — I find those people I’ve lost contact with and reconnect.” BJ strongly believes the Iowa State Fair is filled with traditions for many people, families, businesses and Iowa as a whole. “I know that any donation to the Blue Ribbon Foundation will be put to good use on new projects, attractions, renovations or an amazing Butter Cow sculpture,” said BJ.

Be sure to add “Duffy’s Cow & Calf” to your ‘must-see’ list at the Iowa State Fair to celebrate the Butter Cow and honor Duffy Lyon’s legacy.

Thank you, BJ Baker, for supporting the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation.


Calling All Kitchen Lovers!

July 19, 2022
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Do you love to cook, bake or grill? If so, we have the perfect Iowa State Fair merchandise items for you! For the first time, the Blue Ribbon Foundation is offering not one, but two new cookbooks ahead of the 2022 Iowa State Fair! We are so excited to offer these books, and we hope you are equally as excited to read them and try their recipes! Here is a bit of a sneak peek into each book.

There has never been a comprehensive history of the Iowa State Fair Food Department. Until now. Kay Fenton Smith and Carol McGarvey set out to bring to life the sector of the Fair that means the most to them. Kay has competed in competitions for more than a decade, and Carol has been a judge for 36 years. They certainly know their way around the department! They describe their new book, Baking Blue Ribbons: Stories and Recipes from the Iowa State Fair Food Competitions as 3 books in one.

It is a history book, filled with the history of the Iowa State Fair and the Food department, dating all the way back to 1854 when the Fair began. The book is also a storybook, complete with stories of blue ribbon bakers and individuals who changed the scene of the Iowa State Fair Food Department.

Finally, the book is a cookbook, complete with recipes dating all the way back to the humble beginnings of competition and even recipes from as recent as last year. Even if you aren't a fan of the kitchen, this book will have something for you. This department touches all edges of the state, and this book aims to give a look inside of that success. All of the proceeds of this book go to the Iowa State Fair Food Department. Order Baking Blue Ribbons Online

The 21st Edition Iowa State Fair Cookbook brings you a wide variety of recipes from award winning cooks from all around the state. Offered every other year, the cookbook traditionally includes recipes that placed first or second in their respective categories in the past two years. However, with there not being a Fair in 2020, writers of the book had to get a bit creative. The result? An even more special cookbook for the 2022 Fair!

This cookbook features recipes from the 2021 Fair as well as a wide selection of Retro Recipes. The Retro Recipes are some absolute favorites from the Iowa State Fair. Complete with appetizers, entrees, desserts, pies, breads and more, the 21st Edition Iowa State Fair Cookbook has something for everyone inside. Proceeds from this book go to the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Order the 21st Edition Cookbook Online

Be sure to place your order or check these books out at the Fair, August 11-21, at any of our merchandise booths located around the Fairgrounds. 


- Laura Noehren, Business Relations Intern

Brick by Brick, day by day, the Iowa State Fair draws nearer!

July 14, 2022
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With the Fair a short 27 days away, preparations are in full swing here on the Fairgrounds! With the Corndog Kickoff behind us, the attention shifts to setting up and preparing for the Fair. Yesterday was a key day in that process. We spent the day placing the new engraved bricks around the Fairgrounds! As one of our most popular programs, this was quite the task. From the Campgrounds to the Swine Barn, bricks were placed to honor loved ones, achievements, and celebrations. Yesterday we also got set up to place other recognitions around the Fairgrounds! The tree plaques are here and will be installed shortly, and the light post plaques are also ready to be installed.

There are many ways to honor your loved ones on the Fairgrounds. If you’d like to learn more about our giving programs check out our page dedicated to the programs! You’re sure to find one that suits your interests. We offer donation programs for many different budgets, as well as in many locations around the Fairgrounds, so you can find the perfect option for your family member, friend or loved one.

            Thank you to all who gave a donation for one of these programs this past year. We hope you are excited to see your brick, lamp post plaque, tree plaque, or any other type of recognition you may have selected at the Iowa State Fair this year!

- Laura Noehren, Business Relations Intern

A Magical Night Indeed

July 12, 2022
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Blue Ribbon Foundation believes the Iowa State Fair is truly “Our Own Fairy Tale”. The 2022 Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party on Saturday, July 9 made our Iowa State Fair dreams come true ensuring all future Fairgoers live happily ever after. Last Saturday's event raised a new fundraising record of $797,000 for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.

More than 2,100 Iowa State Fair fans gathered for a night of fun, food and fundraising in the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building. The Blue Ribbon Foundation auctioned off 35 live and 291 silent auction packages for totals of $260,550 and $139,217, respectively. Patron contributions totaled $335,000. The remaining funds consisted of ticket and merchandise sales.

“The Corndog Kickoff set another record this year in terms of attendance and dollars raised," said Peter Cownie, Blue Ribbon Foundation Executive Director.  “We cannot thank Iowans enough for their support. The Iowa State Fair will continue to grow and prosper because of their generosity. Thank you.”

As we have spent the day cleaning up and re-organizing, we would like to give a special thank you to everyone who made this night possible. Volunteers, attendees, concessionaires, and many more helped make this magical night a success. We could not do it without you!

If you would like to access your photo from the event, click here. Thank you to Lauren Campbell Photography for taking photos at the event for all attendees. Enjoy the picture below of my wonderful family that came to support the Fair as well!

More pictures from the event will be coming soon. We encourage the public to attend the 2022 Iowa State Fair from August 11-21. Many improvements have been made and will continue to be made with the support of our wonderful donors!


The Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction is coming up quickly! Here is everything you need to know:

July 5, 2022
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Once upon a time, Goldihocks the Butter Cow visited the Neverland State Fair…it was way too big. Goldihocks then visited the Nottingham County Fair…it was way too small. Finally, Goldihocks visited the Iowa State Fair and it was just right!


Fairy tales are classic stories passed down from one generation to the next; often read to a child from a favorite book. Some of these stories teach a lesson, some make us laugh and most we’ll remember forever. The Blue Ribbon Foundation believes the Iowa State Fair is really “Our Own Fairy Tale”.


The 2022 Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party on Saturday, July 9 celebrates the adventures and unique characters found only on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. On this night, the William C. Knapp Varied Industries Building fills with enchanted auction packages and scrumptious Iowa State Fair food suitable for any fair prince or princess from across the land - no poisoned apples or wicked witches allowed!


Tickets are $125 and can be purchased online or at the door the night of the event. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Any tickets purchased the week of the event will be available at will call the night of the event.


If you are interested in participating in the silent auction, make an account on GiveSmart! GiveSmart is the platform we use for the auction and anyone can create an account with their name and card information. You will be able to see auction items and bid in real time. It is easy to use and helps us keep track of who is bidding on what. Bidding starts at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, July 8 and closes at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 9. Once bidding is done, you will be able to pay for your items and pick them up at the auction.


The live auction will take place at the event starting at 8:00 p.m. Don’t worry, while you wait for the live auction to start, there will be a variety of other activities to participate in and foods to try. Take a ride on the Sky Glider, play Rags to Riches, win a mystery prize or spin the spin wheel for a prize! Get an early taste of Fair food from our concessionaires too! Some Fair foods you might taste include: Southwest Chicken Egg Rolls from Jalapeno Pete’s, Pickledawgs from Dawghouse Concessions, or Bacon S’mores on a Stick from JR’s Southpork Ranch. Don’t miss out on your favorite Fair foods.


The Corndog Kickoff is truly a ball you don’t want to miss! Two thousand people attended the 2021 event, raising more than $750,000. You can be part of this fairy tale magic! With your support, no Big Bad Wolf will be able to blow down any of our beloved buildings. So, get your ticket today and join us at the 2022 Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction!


- Brooklin Border, Public Relations Intern

Look Stylish at the 2022 Iowa State Fair!

July 1, 2022
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Iowa State Fair t-shirts are now on sale on our website! Pick from the several various styles, designs and colors including the top six winning designs from the t-shirt contest. There are adult, youth, toddler and infant sizes available.

Select one of the designs, place your order, and get your purchase delivered to your home. The website will remain open for orders through August 29, 2022!


Keep in mind while ordering:

*If your order is placed between July 1st and July 17th, your order will be delivered directly to you by the end of July. (You will receive BEFORE the 2022 Iowa State Fair).

*If your order is placed between July 18th and July 31st, your order will be delivered directly to you by the beginning of August. (You will receive BEFORE the 2022 Iowa State Fair).

*If your order is placed between August 1st and August 29th, your order will be delivered directly to you by the beginning of September (You will receive AFTER the 2022 Iowa State Fair).


Don’t forget, profits from the store directly benefit the Foundation’s goal of preserving and restoring the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. So, order your favorite shirt today and look stylish at the 2022 Iowa State Fair! Thank you for shopping and supporting the Iowa State Fair.


  • Brooklin Border, Public Relations Intern  

Below are some of the designs for shirts, see our website for more colors, styles and design options!


Summer 2022 Newsletter Flashback

June 29, 2022
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Summer is flying by here at the Blue Ribbon Foundation. With the Kickoff just over a week away and Fair preparations in full swing, it can be hard to pause or truly consider how all the work impacts the Fair. The 2022 Summer Newsletter is set to hit mailboxes this week, and can be a good reason to look back, and see just how far the Fair has come. Today, we looked back to 2002 and 2012 to see what the Blue Ribbon Foundation was up to 10 and 20 years ago.

In 2002, the Blue Ribbon Foundation was busy settling into their new home on the Fairgrounds. While settling in, construction was underway at the Legacy Terrace, which was constructed in 3 phases, much like how the multi-phase project at Elwell Family Park is being constructed today!

“The Legacy Terrace offers Fair-goers the opportunity to leave a legacy at the Iowa State Fair,” said then Executive Director John Putney.

The Legacy Terrace is still a part of giving program options today. There are 3 different options for donations and recognitions at the Legacy Terrace, including granite pavers, cast-bronze plaques at the bases of the trees in the area, and plaques on limestone blocks. The Legacy Terrace is a popular spot to relax and people watch on the Grand Concourse.

The 6th annual Corndog Kickoff was also quickly approaching 20 years ago. The newsletter highlighted 5 unique packages that ranged from VIP concert tickets to see Alicia Keys at the Grandstand to getting to help sculpt the Butter Cow for the 2002 Fair.

Fast forward ten years to 2012, and yet again we see a flurry of activity at the Blue Ribbon Foundation and on the Fairgrounds. Construction was in full swing up at Expo Hill, to add lighting, benches and a new staircase to the area. The Cultural Center had elevators installed and the parking lot next to the 4-H Building was paved after being flooded in years prior.

Much like this year, the summer newsletter highlighted new merchandise offerings for the 2012 season. There was the 2012 pottery piece (the compost pot for those who collect), 2 Sticks plaques (Fairlicious and Little Squeakers), the 2012 Lapel Pin (Cultural Center), the 2012 charms (lemonade and logo), the 2012 ornament (Pepsi Clock), and the 16th edition of the Iowa State Fair Cookbook. Some things at the Blue Ribbon Foundation do not change. This year we will offer the 2022 editions of all of these items! There will be the Water Carafe pottery piece, 1 Sticks Plaque called Iowa State Fair Peeps, a Lapel Pin featuring the Cattle Barn, a camper charm and 2022 logo charm, a Fairfield ornament and the 21st edition of the Iowa State Fair Cookbook. Call us at (515) 262-3111 ext. 371 to place your orders for pottery, Sticks plaques or the 21st edition cookbook today! All other items will be available at the Iowa State Fair August 11-21.

As the years go by, the projects that are completed because of Fair supporters continue to grow in both number and magnitude. This year, we are proud to continue work on the Elwell Family Park, the Alliant Energy Landing, the Kitchen, and the Pioneer Hall exterior. We cannot wait to look back in 10 years on the progress that was made this year, in 2022. What kind of projects and restorations might the Fair be doing in 2032? Only time will tell.

- Laura Noehren, Business Relations Intern

Project Updates

June 27, 2022
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Lots of progress has been made since my last project update in May. With the Fair less than two months away, these renovations will be complete and ready to welcome all Fairgoers in August!

Elwell Family Park: Get ready for exciting entertainment in Elwell Family Park this year. Short course UTV and ATV motorsport racing will join the Outlaw Truck & Tractor Pulls for the 2022 Fair. Phase two of the project includes additional bleachers, a press box and covered seating, ready to welcome the crowds. Buy your tickets here.