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How to do the Iowa State Fair on a budget

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 10:55 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 11:00 a.m. CDT

As many of you know, journalists are the starving artists of the media world. With that said, the day before pay day is the day when pockets that are already low on funds are nearly empty.

That was the challenge I faced last Thursday when I got to spend the day providing coverage at the Iowa State Fair. Imagine going to this ode to delicious gluttony with only $22.50 to your name until the next day — it’s torture.

In spite of my severe financial obstacles, I made it work and put the Food Network show “$40 a Day” — which teaches people how to visit a city and eat three meals for $40 or less — to shame.

I started my day eating breakfast at the West Des Moines United Methodist Church’s food stand. For $5.50, I got a delicious breakfast sandwich and a bottomless cup of coffee. I repeat, a bottomless cup! Five minutes in, and I was already in love with the state fair.

While taking advantage of this generous opportunity to indulge my caffeine addiction, I was informed this was the last church stand left at the fair. Paige and Mark, two church volunteers, informed me the church has used this stand as a fundraiser for its out-of-church resources, such as mission trips, for the last 65 years.

In the midst of enjoying the steaming hot coffee, I befriended a gentleman named Wayne, who farms in northern Iowa and has been coming to the state fair since 1950. He was here this year to support his grandkids and told me how much the fairgrounds have changed since back in his day.

After a while, I parted ways with Wayne, got to work and tried to plot out what to do with my remaining $16.50.

Around 1:15 p.m. my stomach impolitely let me know it was time for lunch, which ironically enough was moments after my failed attempt at feeding a newborn calf. Online, I saw an incredible amount of choices for a nice thrifty, fatty and fulfilling lunches but I gave myself one rule — whatever I ate had to be on a stick.

I got a bit impatient and went with the first stand I saw and wound up getting some delectable hunks of pork-on-a-stick. While delectable, I robbed myself of some unique food opportunities by not looking around.

The pork was $5, and I was left with $11.50. I decided I wanted to get a $1.50 baked potato I heard was near Walnut Square. I set out in search of this fabled potato only to get distracted by a $5 cheese corn brat. I’ve only had corn dogs, so a corn brat was a must have.

Down to $6.50 and too full to continue my hunt for the elusive baked potato, I decided to go to the media center and crank out a story when yet again I got distracted. A few weeks ago, Mike Mendenhall told me about something called a “Moon Bar” they sell at the state fair.

He said it was a must have!

Once I saw the sign advertising the Moon Bar for $3 I knew I had to go for it, and as a bonus it’s served on a stick. I grabbed a seat on a rain soaked bench and dove into the chocolaty and nutty frozen treat with the delight a toddler experiences the first time they discover how great sugary “food” is.

After wiping the chocolate from the corners of my mouth, I went to the media center and to go to work, while counting my blessings that I still had $3.50 left. I finished everything I could from there and decided to make my pilgrimage to the butter cow.

While there, the Iowa Egg Council was offering free hard-boiled eggs — on a stick.  I grabbed a couple, took a quick tour of the Ag Building and got in line for the butter cow.

Checking two things off my Iowa bucket list, I made the long journey back to my car.

On my toward the exit, I saw a sign that said bacon wrapped rib for $4. I paused, checked my pockets and somehow, my $3.50 turned into $3.75, which was just a quarter short of letting me experience hog heaven, literally.

I shrugged, bought an overpriced bottle of water and walked out with my last $1.75.

Contact Senior Staff Writer Ty Rushing at (641) 792-3121 Ext. 6532 or
trushing@newtondailynews.com

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