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Kathleen Schubert, food stand manager, prepares marinades for meals to be served in Hooley Hall, the 4-H dining hall at the Washington County Fair. This year the 4-H is offering healthier food options, most with ingredients from area farmers and producers. Staff photo by Scott Wente.

County fair to feature local food

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A new food feature is stirring curiosity and excitement at this week's Washington County Fair.

No, it's not deep-fried candy bars or even exotic meat-on-a-stick. It's even more unusual.

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It's healthy food.

Local 4-H youths - the lifeblood of the county fair - will look to raise funds for their programs by selling healthy food and snack options for the first time. Many of the ingredients will be from regional producers, some located just miles from the fairgrounds in Lake Elmo.

The new program is a combined effort of Washington County 4-H, the county's public health department and a state 4-H foundation. The goal is to promote healthy living and feature area growers, said Pam Johnson, a local 4-H assistant food manager.

"It kind of made sense to showcase the local farms at the local fair," she said.

The menu will include "mini-burgers" made with grass-fed beef from Cannon Falls-based Thousand Hills Cattle Company. Sweet corn will come from a local farm. There will be blueberries from Blueberry Fields in Stillwater. The 4-H booth in Hooley Hall also will sell brats made with lamb, a healthier alternative to traditional brats, Johnson said.

The 4-H booth is cutting out its pop supply this year. In its place, fair-goers can buy milk - white and chocolate - supplied by a farm in northern Washington County. There also will be real iced tea and slushies made with fruit juice.

A state 4-H grant and a public health grant will help offset some of the food costs, but Johnson said organizers hope the new items are popular, since it is a fundraiser for local 4-H programs. It also is a learning experience for the youth who will work the booth.

"It's a big experiment to see how well it sells, what people think," Johnson said. "I thought the time is right to try it. We'll see how it goes."

If you've got a hankering for mini-donuts of other deep-fried goodies, don't despair. The fair has its usual variety of food vendors.

That is a special feature of county fairs, said Washington County fair organizer Dorie Ostertag.

"You can't just go to a restaurant and get fair food - it's just not the same," she joked. "We try to please everyone."

That theme - pleasing everyone - extends beyond the food booths. Organizers said that even local residents who cannot tell a Holstein cow from a Guernsey cow still can have a good time at the fair.

In fact, they said, that is why people without any ties to agriculture should bring their children to the fair.

"If you're in the suburbs, you still bring (the kids) to see the animals," said Dan Dolan of Woodbury, fair board president and a 4-H leader. "You still bring them to get the corn on the cob and the pork chop on a stick and those good things. And you still bring them for the carnival."

The fair runs Wednesday through Sunday.

For more information, go to www.washingtoncountyfair.org.

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