Twinkies Deep-fried & Death-defying Rides

Imagine walking across the fair, visiting with friends after propelling straight into the sky on the newest and fastest ride and bumping into someone eating a deep fried Twinkie.

No, it isn’t the ride that is causing deep fried hallucinations; it’s the newest food to sweep the fair.

This year’s 99th annual Florida State Fair will have all of the basics plus a new thrill ride, deep-fried Twinkies, a variety of concerts, agricultural exhibits and competitions.

Fairgoers can watch knights jousting in full costumes with protective armor on Friday and Saturday, watch Emerson Drive sing their No.1 country hit “Fall Into You” at a free concert Feb. 15, as well as visit the Agricultural Hall of Fame and Bob Thomas Equestrian Center for horseshows and livestock competitions, said Lizz Harmon, public relations spokesperson for the fair.

Harmon said the fair tries to appeal to a broad-based audience.

“Our main focus is the agriculture competitions and blue ribbon quilting, but we also try to coordinate entertainment that is affordable to the fair’s budget that everyone will like,” Harmon said.

Harmon said fairgoers like country music, so the two opening nights feature country because they’re big nights.

The state fair will not book acts that are appearing within a 60-mile radius of the fair within 90 days of their performance at the fair because they want to bring something new to the area, Harmon said.

“The Latin festival is family day (Sunday), and Ashanti’s concert is on Friday because those days of the week typically bring in the types of audiences that enjoy these kinds of activities,” Harmon said.

George Jones will be performing live at 7 on opening night (Thursday) with tickets costing $15 and $20, plus fair admission.

The newest and fastest ride sure to thrill fairgoers this year is the Big Sling.

“The Big Sling is an ejection seat ride, but it is 80 feet taller than any one that we’ve ever had,” Harmon said. “It will take either a single person or a tandem up 330 feet in the air and propel them.”

But don’t let all of the rides, concerts and food distract from the underlying purpose of the fair: to teach about agriculture in an entertaining way.

Rick Vymlatil, executive director for the Florida State Fair Authority, said today’s fair is an outgrowth of people in small towns showcasing agriculture, and that the primary function of the fair is to educate visitors and show them a good time.

“We call it edutainment, a combination of education and entertainment,” Vymlatil said.

The Agricultural Hall of Fame showcases people who significantly contributed to agriculture, as well as exhibits on Florida commodities such as strawberries, oranges, sugar, tobacco and cotton, Vymlatil said.

“The hall of fame has new people inducted yearly — a lot of cattlemen and citrus folks,” Vymlatil said. “This year’s central exhibit is honey and bee hives.”

The fair grounds are owned by the Florida State Fair Authority, a quasi government agency created by the Florida Statutes, and are part of the Department of Agriculture. All profits that the fair grounds make go to maintaining the grounds and creating new programs, said Vymlatil.

The primary activities the State Fair Authority organizes other than the fair are educational programs for elementary school classes.

“In the fall and spring we set up stations with volunteers to do hands on activities for class field trips,” Vymlatil said. “Kids get to learn different things about agriculture at the different stations, things like how to make butter, where orange juice comes from and where meat comes from.”

The goal of the State Fair Authority is to work more closely with schools to educate kids about Florida history and local agriculture, Vymlatil said.

Visit the Florida State Fair located at the crossroads of Interstate 4 and U.S. Highway 301 from Feb. 6-17. Arm band days, when the full-day costs are $20, are Feb. 7, 9, 14, 16 and 17.