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.

Holiday Gift Packages

November 12, 2020
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation is now selling three different Holiday Gift Packages, perfect for the Iowa State Fair lover in your life.

#1 Holiday Gift Package - $20: This is for the State Fair foodie; this package includes a 2020 Barksdale State Fair Chocolate Chip Cookie ornament and matching socks.


#2 Holiday Gift Package - $27: This package is for the youngest Iowa State Fair fan in your family. It includes the new Fairfield and Friends: Ribbon Quest children's book and a Butter Cow stuffed animal.


#3 Holiday Gift Package - $35: With an Iowa State Fair puzzle, Butter Cow socks and the brand new Butter Cow stocking hat - this gift will make any avid Fairgoer smile.


Each of these special merchandise packages includes $3 in savings. You can create your own holiday gift package by ordering some of the other fun Iowa State Fair souvenirs in the online State Fair Store.

Merchandise purchased in the State Fair Store goes directly toward the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission of renovating and preserving the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Thank you.


Butter Cow History

November 3, 2020
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The Blue Ribbon Foundation sure missed the Butter Cow this summer. Yes, we celebrated our favorite Iowa State Fair icon with the adorable stuffed Butter Cow, funny Butter Cow Security Hat and cozy Butter Cow socks but this famous part of the Fair has a unique history. How much do you know about the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow?

In 1911, J.K. Daniels sculpted the Fair's first butter cow and was succeeded by J.E. Wallace of Florida. In 1957, Earl Frank Dutt of Illinois took over the sculpting duties. Norma “Duffy” Lyon of Toledo, Iowa, began sculpting in 1960, becoming the first woman to sculpt the Fair's butter beauties. In 2006, after 15 years of apprenticing with Duffy, Sarah Pratt of West Des Moines became the Fair's fifth butter sculptor. Only five people have had the job in more than 100 years, now that’s impressive!

The world-famous Butter Cow is located in the Agriculture Building. It starts with a wood, metal, wire and steel mesh frame and about 600 lbs. of low moisture, pure cream Iowa butter. Once inside the 40-degree cooler, layers of butter are applied until a life-size butter cow emerges - measuring about 5-1/2-ft high and 8-ft long. Each year, much of the butter is recycled and can be reused for up to 10 years. (I have personally smelled inside the cooler and it has a “unique” odor.)

In addition to the Butter Cow, a companion sculpture also graces the Agriculture Building coolers.

Companion Sculptures by Year:

  • 1996 — Grant Wood’s famous “American Gothic” (honoring Iowa’s Sesquicentennial)
  • 1997 — Elvis Presley
  • 1998 — An American eagle
  • 1999 — Duffy’s own version of Leonardo DaVinci’s “The Last Supper”
  • 2000 — Christian Peterson's “The Gentle Doctor” statue (Petersen was Duffy’s mentor)
  • 2001— John Wayne
  • 2002 — The Peanuts Gang
  • 2003 — A Harley-Davidson motorcycle (in honor of the company’s 100th anniversary)
  • 2004 — A birthday cake in honor of the Fair’s Sesquicentennial and an Iowa barn
  • 2005 — Tiger Woods
  • 2006 — “Mr. State Fair” Bill Riley (in honor of his 60th Fair) and Superman (Norwalk, Iowa, native Brandon Routh)
  • 2007 — Harry Potter
  • 2008 — Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and a tribute to four Iowans who changed the face of the world’s agriculture: Etta May Budd, George Washington Carver, Henry Wallace and Norman Borlaug
  • 2009 — A tribute to the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon
  • 2010 —Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham (in honor of its 50th anniversary)
  • 2011 — A replica of the 1911 butter cow sculptures. A sculpture of a young girl as a tribute to Norma “Duffy” Lyon.
  • 2012 — Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (75th anniversary of the Disney film)
  • 2013 — A tribute to the Historic Lincoln Highway (and President Lincoln)
  • 2014 — A celebration of the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams
  • 2015 — A celebration of the 80th anniversary of Monopoly
  • 2016 — A celebration of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek
  • 2017 — A celebration of the 150th birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder and a replica of the Solheim Cup as the tournament visited Des Moines.
  • 2018 — 100th anniversary of John Deere entering the tractor business with a replica of the Waterloo Boy Tractor.
  • 2019 — A celebration of 50 years of Sesame Street.

When you order official Iowa State Fair merchandise in the online State Fair Store, you keep the spirit of the Butter Cow alive year round while also supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission.


Big Challenges - Bigger Vision

October 28, 2020
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The Iowa State Fair has faced many challenges throughout its history – competing fairs, war, economic hardship, and deteriorating buildings are just a few.  But you, our Fair family, have never given up on the Iowa State Fair; forever encouraging us to continue, to improve, and to think of the future.  In honor of all of those who have helped make our Fair the best in the nation, the Blue Ribbon Foundation created the “Big Challenges – Bigger Vision” fundraising campaign.

It is a big challenge!  The Iowa State Fairgrounds spans 445 acres with more than 40 buildings, some of which were constructed in the early 1900’s.  Mix in a million visitors and Iowa’s weather, and the amount of wear and tear adds up quickly. The Fairgrounds requires constant maintenance to keep these great historic structures in top-notch condition.

Our vision is to have a Fairgrounds that is not only a showcase for the Iowa State Fair but one that draws people in every day of the year.  We want visitors to find the Fairgrounds an attractive, user-friendly location for year round events.  Maintaining our infrastructure is all part of the service and pride the Fairgrounds brings to the east side, the metro area and to the state of Iowa.  Yet there are many areas of the Fairgrounds that still need attention.  Restrooms that need upgrading, barns needing repairs and countless other projects to keep our beloved Fairgrounds in the best condition possible.

We have a shared vision and the Blue Ribbon Foundation will strive to continue improving the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds so it will be the envy of the nation - now and for future generations. Thank you for being an essential part of our story. 

Thank you to the following donors that are taking on the challenge and sharing our vision for the future! The Blue Ribbon Foundation will continue the “Big Challenges – Bigger Vision” fundraising campaign throughout 2020. Please consider joining our mission. Thank you.



What’s Happening this Fall?

October 21, 2020
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Read the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s fall newsletter to stay up to date. This issue includes a recap of what our organization was able to accomplish this summer. Robin Taylor outlines how we turned lemons into lemonade. “This unique summer has shown us how much we have to appreciate.”

A special shout out to two area businesses that supported the Foundation in unique ways. Community Choice Credit Union donated $5,952.50 to the Blue Ribbon Foundation this summer by selling unique physical distancing Butter Cow shirts. The Aveda Institute Des Moines held a Salon Blue Ribbon Community Fundraising Event in August and donated $1,269 to the Foundation.

The fall newsletter highlights the “No Fair – I Do Care” Benefit Auction and the ongoing “Big Challenges – Bigger Vision” Fundraising Campaign. Thank you to the donors that have supported both of these initiatives.

Staff spend the majority of August and September shipping out Iowa State Fair souvenirs! With more than 1000 packages mailed, Fair-lovers all over the country could celebrate their favorite summertime tradition. 2020 ornaments, lapel pins and other collectibles were mailed all across Iowa and 31 other states:

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Washington DC, Wisconsin

It's never too early to start some holiday shopping. Check out the online State Fair Store to get the Fairgoer in your life the perfect gift.

The recently renovated Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Building, includes an expansion to the west. The space holds new classrooms and an atrium. More like a piece of art, the new "Spirit of Generosity" donor wall panel is a representation of Iowa, demonstrating how independent pieces come together to create our great state and its Fair. Give a donation to recognize the 4-H’er in your Fair family.

The newsletter also includes information on our upcoming internships, planned giving opportunities and a history on the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s relationship with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Thank you for reading the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s quarterly newsletter.



October 12, 2020
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Do you shop on Amazon?

Here is your opportunity to get great shopping deals AND support the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation.

While you shop Amazon Prime Day deals on October 13 and 14, simply use AmazonSmile and AmazonSmile will donate to the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

When you shop using AmazonSmile, you’ll find the exact same low prices, vast selection and convenient shopping experience as, with the added benefit that AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchases to the charitable organization of your choice. You can choose from over one million organizations to support, including the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

To date, AmazonSmile has donated more than $200 million to charities worldwide. Thank you for supporting our mission while you shop!


20th Edition Cookbook

October 6, 2020
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The Iowa State Fair is proud to offer the 20th collection of ribbon-winning Iowa State Fair recipes in the newest cookbook. Inside, you’ll find classic family favorite comfort food and tasty treats, as well as new and exciting flavors. The Iowa State Fair Marketing Department puts the cookbook together and the Blue Ribbon Foundation sells the book as a fundraiser.

The Iowa State Fair published its first cookbook in 1983, and since then, the cookbook’s purpose has remained the same: to showcase the Iowa State Fair Food Department and its talented exhibitors. The Iowa State Fair Food Department is one of the largest in the county, therefore raising the bar for the quality of the recipes selected for the newest cookbook.

The collection of recipes is among the very best from the 2018 and 2019 food competitions and ranges from main dishes and appetizers to breads and desserts and everything in between. While edited for clarity, in general, these recipes are presented as submitted for judging. Even though they have not been tested in a laboratory kitchen, they have been judged and deemed worthy of a first-place ribbon at the Iowa State Fair.

The Iowa State Fair applauds all exhibitors for their time, effort and dedication to perfecting their entries: they truly are what make the food department the best.

Do you have a previous cookbook in your kitchen cabinet? The cookbook covers over the years have changed but the quality remains the same. Here are some recipes that sound interesting, yet delicious:

  • Seafood Empanadas
  • Roasted Corn and Crab Soup
  • Wood-Fired Charcuterie Pie
  • Italian Beer Bread
  • Smoked Maple Bacon Cheesecake
  • Tangy Lemon Snowballs
  • Fruit and Veggie Popsicles 

Check out these recipes and more! Order your copy of the 20th edition Iowa State Fair cookbook.


Cookie Crazy

September 28, 2020
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Did you visit the Iowa State Fair’s fall Taste of the Fair event this past weekend? Fair food lovers grabbed chocolate chip cookies, corn dogs, funnel cakes, cheese curds and more. The next two Taste of the Fair events are scheduled for October 2-4 and October 9-11 on the Grand Concourse on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

This past weekend, roughly 20 vendors were spaced out along Grand Avenue for walk-up orders. You could choose to enjoy the foods at a safe distance or take them home. 

If you haven’t traveled to the Fairgrounds since last year – there is a new addition to Grand Avenue. The Barksdale’s State Fair Cookie Factory will be serving chocolate chip cookies by the cup or bucket for the next two weekends.

Barksdale’s cookies have become synonymous with the Iowa State Fair. Each August, thousands of families get in line to get their cup of warm, fresh chocolate chip cookies. Two million ooey-gooey chocolate chip cookies are sold each Fair. Are you one of the Fairgoers that buys a bucket full?  23,000 buckets were sold in 2019! 

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is still so excited about the new cookie adventure; we have gone a little cookie crazy! This year we have a cookie lapel pin, cookie ornament, and cookie socks all available for sale. Check out the online State Fair Store

The Blue Ribbon Foundation will also have our merchandise trailer set up in front of the Administration Building stocked full of your favorite Iowa State Fair souvenirs. We’ll see you next weekend!



Spirit of Generosity

September 11, 2020
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The traditions of the Iowa State Fair are deeply rooted in the spirit of Iowa. From displaying the best in agriculture, providing world-class entertainment and bringing people together in celebration - the Iowa State Fair inspires hard work, creativity and pride.

The Iowa State Fair’s ability to attract people from all backgrounds and encourage youth involvement is at the heart of our Fair’s success. The Fair is proud to play a role in helping youth develop not only their knowledge but also their character. It takes hard work and dedication to see a project evolve from an idea to a Fair entry, just as it takes hard work, leadership and character to build a business, a community and a nation.

The “Spirit of Generosity” giving program is designed to honor the character and generous spirit of Iowans. One special Iowan we are honored to highlight is the late Mr. Richard Jacobson.

Richard “Dick” Jacobson was a true philanthropist, eager to give of his time, talent and resources to help others. Raised in Belmond, Iowa, Dick grew up knowing the value of hard work and drive. After college, service in the Army and a few years in business, Dick founded Jacobson Warehouse Company in 1968 with two employees. His hard work, leadership and creativity built his company into a business with national impact recognized for excellence in customer service and employee satisfaction.

A long-time Fairgoer, Dick epitomized what has made the Iowa State Fair the best in the nation. Since 1854, our Fair has helped grow leaders by bringing people together in competition, inspiring all to raise the bar while having fun. Dick’s generosity across the state is well known and his support of the Iowa State Fair through the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation has changed the landscape of our Fairgrounds forever.

“It’s all about changing lives“, he explained, and helping people find their path. The Iowa State Fair is fortunate that he cared deeply about Iowa’s grand agricultural tradition. His gift allows us to continue preserving the history of the Iowa State Fair, while improving the grounds and facilities for future generations.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation invites you to continue Dick’s spirit of generosity and help preserve the value the Iowa State Fair brings to the people of Iowa.  Located in the west atrium of the Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Exhibits Building, the “Spirit of Generosity” panel is a representation of Iowa, demonstrating how independent pieces come together to create our great state and its Fair.

Recognize the hard work of your 4-H or FFA member, commemorate your family’s tradition of camping, celebrate your competitive entry blue ribbon or the excitement of your first visit to our classic Fair. With six suggested giving levels starting at $100, each donation will be recognized on the panel. You can give your donation online.


Spirit of Generosity Donor Wall:


John Putney, former Blue Ribbon Foundation Executive Director, and Dick Jacobson pictured at the construction site for the Jacobson Exhibition Center built in 2010.


Summer Recap

September 8, 2020
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September is usually a whirlwind of clean up and highlighting our favorite Iowa State Fair moments. Like all of 2020, this September looks different. The Blue Ribbon Foundation staff has stayed busy this summer but not with our normal projects.

The Iowa State Fair hosted the Taste of the Fair food events and the Special Edition Livestock Show in July and August. As part of the State Fair team, the Blue Ribbon Foundation staff pulled weeds, worked gates, baked cookies and did whatever else was needed to help make those events happen. A few other highlights from our summer:

Engraved Bricks: Staff placed 150 engraved bricks across the Fairgrounds. Each brick celebrates a special family memory or honors a loved one. The inscriptions are unique and creative. Staff will place more engraved bricks this fall. The deadline to have your brick placed this fall is September 15. You can give a donation for an engraved brick online.

Merchandise: During the Iowa State Fair, the Blue Ribbon Foundation sells official Iowa State Fair souvenirs at five different booths across the Fairgrounds. This year, we sold everything online. We’ve been busy organizing merchandise orders, packaging items, and creating shipping labels. More than 850 orders have been shipped since August 1. We still have about 200 orders left to ship. (The new chocolate chip cookie bucket ornaments are delayed. We should have them in two weeks.) You can still purchase merchandise. Check out the online State Fair Store.

“No Fair – I Do Care” Benefit Auction: Without the Corndog Kickoff, staff planned the first virtual benefit auction. Thank you to the donors that gave items for the auction and to the volunteers that helped get everything organized. The Foundation was overwhelmed with the amount of support. The auction raised $65,560 for Fairgrounds renovations. Whether you won a package or not, your participation and support made a difference. Thank you!

Big Challenges – Bigger Vision Fundraising Campaign: Improvement projects continued throughout the summer. The largest project - the renovation of the 4-H Building is complete and will be used this weekend.  Renovations of the buildings allow them to be used year round. More improvement projects will continue this fall and into next year. We are asking for your support in our “Big Challenges – Bigger Vision” campaign. Please join us in continuing to improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds for the next generation.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation will continue working hard on the 2021 Iowa State Fair, August 12-22 and we can’t wait until we can all be together again.


5 ways to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation

August 18, 2020
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Listed are 5 ways you can support the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation this August.

1. Check out the new online benefit auction -  From now until Sunday, August 23 – the Foundation is hosting the “No Fair – I Do Care!" Benefit Auction. To bid, you’ll sign in to the auction and set up your bidding account. You’ll be able to “watch” packages you are interested in and set maximum bids to make the bidding easy.

2. Buy an Iowa State Fair T-Shirt - You can order Iowa State Fair apparel through a dedicated Online T-Shirt Store. Select your favorite designs, place your order and get your purchase delivered to your home. The website will remain open for orders through August 28. All t-shirt orders will be shipped separately on a print-to-order service coordinated by our partner, Broken Arrow Wear.

3. Get your favorite Iowa State Fair Souvenir - The traditional collectibles are available for 2020 – charms, pottery piece, ornament, lapel pin, Sticks plaque, cookbook and the Isabel Bloom sculpture. Don’t worry - we also have hats, sweatshirts and socks to fit your apparel needs! These merchandise items will be extra special this year. Start Shopping!

4. Explore a new Partnership - The Aveda Institute Des Moines is holding a #BlueRibbon community event until Saturday, August 22. They are offering discounted services and will donate a portion of the proceeds to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. Stop by for a service or retail, and get a raffle ticket to win a free Hydrafacial!

5. Big Challenges, Bigger Vision - The Iowa State Fair has faced many challenges throughout its history – competing fairs, war, economic hardship, and deteriorating buildings are just a few.  But you, our Fair family, have never given up on the Iowa State Fair; forever encouraging us to continue, to improve, and to think of the future.  In honor of all of those who have helped make our Fair the best in the nation, the Blue Ribbon Foundation is launching the “Big Challenges – Bigger Vision” campaign.

Thank you for supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation as we raise funds to help preserve and improve the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds.