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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Fair, an annual 17-day extravaganza celebrating the state's $44 billion agriculture industry, begins Friday at the fairgrounds on the northeast side of Indianapolis.

This year's theme is "The Wonderful World of Food." Each day, a different item from the bounty of Indiana-grown products, and the Hoosiers who make them, will be featured in cooking demonstrations, eating contests and samples provided to fair-goers.

Popcorn grown by the Scott family in nearby White County is the featured food Sunday. The Lambert family's mint, from Starke County just south of LaPorte, will be highlighted Aug. 15.

Naturally, the first day of the fair honors foods you can fry in Indiana soybean oil. Other foods of the day include melon on Saturday; beef, ice cream and apples next weekend; and turkey leg, pickles and honey on the fair's final days.

"Food is the No. 1 reason people attend the state fair, so what better way to celebrate than by honoring the Hoosier farmers who produce the food we eat," said Cindy Hoye, the fair's executive director.

In addition to the featured foods, there are more than 90 food stands located throughout the 250-acre fairgrounds with offerings that include a peanut butter pineapple pork burger; a corn dog topped with mac and cheese, chili and jalapenos; and a traditional funnel cake fashioned into a strawberry shortcake.

"Hoosiers have deep connections to food, and there is no better place to showcase how much fun we can have with food than the Great Indiana State Fair," Hoye said.

Fair-goers 21 and older once again can wash down those delicacies at the fair's popular Indiana Beer, Wine and Spirits exhibition, featuring adult beverages produced at microbreweries, farm wineries and craft distilleries throughout the state.

Earlier this month, Speedway's Daredevil Brewing succeeded Byway Brewing Co., of Hammond, as the fair's grand champion brewery and winner of the Indiana Brewers' Cup.

Hoosiers who have had their fill of food will find no shortage of other things to do and see at the fair, ranging from traditional exhibits of animals and 4-H projects, to a virtual reality tour of a working pig farm.

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There are 17 free concerts, one every night of the fair, featuring among others an Eagles tribute band Saturday, a Hispanic music festival Sunday, Poison's Bret Michaels Aug. 7, contemporary Christian performers Aug. 13, country group Midland Aug. 15, emo rockers Dashboard Confessional Aug. 16, Patti LaBelle Aug. 17 and Kiefer Sutherland Aug. 18.

In addition, depending on which day they visit, fair-goers can see horse shows, pig races, tractor pulls, a marching band contest, cheerleader competitions, a rodeo, demolition derby, monster trucks and even a hot air balloon race that begins at dawn Friday.

The fair's Midway offers traditional carnival rides and games for adults and kids alike, though the Fire Ball ride that killed an 18-year-old man at the Ohio State Fair last week will not be operating by order of the Indiana state fire marshal.

The most popular ride at this year's fair likely will be the new Subaru Skyride.

For $5, riders travel on a chair lift some 35 feet above Main Street for more than a quarter-mile and see the sights and sounds of the fair from an entirely new perspective.

"We are always seeking new opportunities to offer our fair-goers the best possible experience, and we believe this new attraction accomplishes that," Hoye said.


Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.