Started in the mid-1800s to promote agriculture, today’s state fairs are much more than just animal and produce judging. The midways, rides and sometimes outlandish foods are as much a part of the experience as the cows, chickens and preserves. Bringing that excitement to your own party is a simple affair, and it will delight adults and children alike.

Y’All Come on Over

Start the fun before the party even begins with a creative approach to the invitations. Make an admission ticket-styled invitation or recreate old-fashioned fans with two sheets of cardstock glued around a paint stir stick. Decorate your fans with pictures of farm animals, fruits and vegetables or jams, jellies and preserves. Alternatively, create invitations in the shape of blue-ribbon awards.

Create the Scene

To decorate in a state fair theme, you can go simple with gingham table linens and canning jars containing rustic flowers or tea lights. Use seed packets glued to ponytail bands as napkin holders. Go big and bold with small models of windmills, picket fence sections, and a ticket booth facade at the entry door. Scatter some stuffed farm animals, peck or bushel baskets holding real or plastic fruits and some galvanized tin buckets filled with peanuts; hang some bunting on windows or other areas; and you’ve got a charming setting for your party.

Feed the Crowd

Nothing says state or county fair like fried food on a stick. In addition to traditional options like corn dogs, pickles and sausage, add a healthier option with caprese salads on skewers or veggie kabobs. Other state fair food choices include corn on the cob, funnel cakes, candied or caramel apples, barbecue and hamburgers. Continue the theme with farm-fresh vegetables, popcorn and kettle corn, cotton candy and an assortment of cakes, pies and cookies.

Keep Them Entertained

Don’t assume that carnival games and other similar activities are only for kids. Set up a ring toss, beanbag toss, softball toss or cupcake walk, and let your adult guests revisit the exuberance of childhood visits to the fair. To really get the theme going, invite your guests to bring fair-style goods and hold your own judging to award blue ribbons for the best baked goods, crafts projects or other items. Face-painting, temporary tattoos and butter-making stations round out the amusements, and a photo booth with hay bales and picket fence or plywood animal cutouts will send your guests home with a one-of-a-kind souvenir of your get-together. For a quiet end to the festivities, show the movies, “State Fair” or “Meet Me in St. Louis,” with plenty of buttered popcorn and lemonade.