We started at the swag barn because it had the bathrooms. Several booths had common things like pens and flyers.
Winner of the Best Swag of the Day Award goes to the Senior Community Service Employment Program for an insulated lunch bag. It zips closed at the top, has a removable semirigid bottom insert, handles, and a beverage sleeve on one side. It's big enough for plenty of food but not so big as to be awkward. I think I'll make it our munchie bag for daytrips. \o/ We got the second-to-last one, and the black lady behind us got the last. If you're handing out swag, your theme has to do with food or vulnerable eaters, and you have deep pockets (these can't have been cheap) then definitely consider this.
Second place goes to BlueCross BlueShield for the full-size yardsticks. Another brilliant offering was little paper packets just bigger than a matchbox, with three pouches of 30 SPF sunscreen inside. If you're ever putting out swag at an outdoor summer event, for goodness sake include these! Also ideal for the first aid booth at an event. They also had rain ponchos (perfect since rain is forecasted this week, and it rained on the way there), stress balls, and reusable bags.
The Illinois State Board of Education had what they billed as a jar-emptying knife. It has a notch in the tip that enables you to scrape out the last of the peanut butter or whatever. Basically that looks like the notch on a cheese knife, so it'll work for that too. It's also plastic, which makes it ideal for cutting fruits/vegetables instead of a metal knife that speeds oxidation. They had asked me what I thought it was for, and I cited those two examples, so now they have a three-way pitch for what it does. \o/ Probably cheap because it's plastic, so if you want to give out food-related swag, these knives are a great choice. Imagine them as party favors or wedding guest gifts, for instance. The booth had flat rubber jar openers too.
After that we went to the Ethnic Village. I'm taking off points for the fact that many booths were just selling ordinary fair food instead of genuine ethnic cuisine. However, some booths did have excellent ethnic options. I confess that I bought the alligator from the English booth, and it's quite good plain -- not overly spiced like Cajun offerings often are so that you can't taste the meat. Here it's all just gator. :D The Jamaican booth had fried plantains in either savory or sweet style; we got the savory. They were quite good: slightly crispy and golden-brown on the outside, tender on the inside, neither cooked to mush nor rigid as poker chips. The Brazilian booth offered feijoada (fay-zho-A-do) which is a delicious mouthwatering pile of shredded beef or pork, beans, rice, cheese and what-all-else. I keep wanting to use Spanish pronunciation, but it's not: it's Portuguese, which I can hack instead of speaking outright. The platter even came with a chewy bread bite and a delightfully fudgy brownie bite. So yeah, we found a new favorite dish. <3 We also bought a kiwi-lime shakeup there, and that's the one thing we went back and bought another of for the ride home. It's one of the best shakeups I've ever had, and we buy one pretty much every fair so we've tried all the flavors. Kudos to Beers of the World for stocking NA Buckler. \o/ The other beer booths had nothing non-alcoholic at all, which is mean to people who can't drink alcohol in the first place, but downright dangerous at a summer event where people may want beer but alcohol is inadvisable due to increasing vulnerability to heatstroke and dehydration. Buckler is one of several gourmet brands of NA beer, highly recommended. Remember to include NA whenever you serve beer, and please don't buy the cheap crap, get something nice like Buckler or Kaliber.
Might as well share the feijoada recipes I tracked down:
https://www.panningtheglobe.com/slow-cooker-brazilian-feijoada/ (beef, bacon, sausages)
https://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/brazilian-feijoada (beef and bacon)
https://www.thespruceeats.com/brazilian-black-bean-stew-in-the-slow-cooker-3029513 (beef, bacon, chorizo)
http://www.blog.thezenofslowcooking.com/brazilian-feijoada/ (vegetarian with butternut squash)
We also went through the merchant barn, which was excellent. We saw a few interesting things and a few dumb ones. The big score was discovering that a favorite yard tool company, Tiger Jaw, has a new gizmo. Last time we bought a ratcheting lopper from them. This time they had one with angled shears so you can stand up but cut parallel to the ground. This prevents having to bend way down to lay loppers flat in order to cut off saplings at the base. \o/ Sadly it doesn't have the ratchet feature, but does have the extendable handles for excellent leverage. It can cut up to 1 1/2" thick branches of hard wood. Physics is your friend! Remember, good tools aren't cheap and cheap tools aren't good. Our ratchet lopper is several years old, heavily used, and we haven't even needed to sharpen it yet.
Later on, my other big score was L&G Concessions (217-717-7280) with a terrific selection of t-shirts. In addition to the usual tie-dye stuff, they also had several marbled shirts. I only had one in blue and black, so I got two new ones: blue-green-yellow and multicolored with some red swirls. <3 <3 <3 I need to wash these things, though. They smell like an oil slick. :P (Marbled shirts are most often made by floating oil-based fabric paint on water.) I am so happy to have these!
Booths I didn't buy from but admired:
Cords of Steel has a gizmo I don't need but I know other folks who do. It's a charging cord for iPhone / Micro USB Android, wrapped in a springsteel sheath for extra durability. It even comes in a variety of colors. If you have trouble due to breaking or kinking charger cords, consider something like this. It solves an obvious problem in an elegant way. Just remember that metal carries a charge, so be careful of static if you're handling delicate equipment.
Uncommon USA carries telescoping flagpoles and other items. What actually caught my eye was the LED Christmas tree accessory -- a cone of strings with lights on them, very pretty. The flagpoles themselves are made from aircraft grade aluminum so they are lightweight and durable. They're also relatively accessible, with a push-button lock/unlock feature that is easy enough for my small hands to operate. This merchant offers a discount to veterans.
Best Hummingbird Feeder Ever incorporates awareness that hummingbirds tend not to revisit the same flower in the same day, but will treat separate holes as separate flowers. It's a ring of little pyramids, each with a hole, so the hummingbird thinks it's a flower garden and will tap every hole until full or at least tired of your nectar. The small version is $35 and the large version is $55. Definitely a good choice if you have lots of hummers.
Action Trackchair is a motorized conveyance for where wheelchairs won't go. Yes, the tankchair people are now doing floor shows at events! Watch for them. Snazzy new models include camo paint jobs and a very fine stand-up chair for hunting. (I have to admit, I wish that one had a gun brace on it. But I'm sure my gizmologists can figure that out. You can get a ton of accessories, including several for guns, but those are for carrying or propping, not to take the recoil so your shoulder doesn't have to. It's not like you could knock over a tankchair with anything less than a tank gun.) These things run on tank treads and take "built like a brick shithouse" to whole new levels of awesome. They're expensive, but while they still have models at the original $20,000 I saw when I first found them researching online, others have come way down. The Action Trackchair NT (their narrow model) starts at $11,300. Tankchairs are a great choice for highly active people who now need mobility assistance.
Lacefield Music out of St. Louis was hawking music lessons and selling used organs and electric pianos at ridiculously good prices. Gizmo-quality organs, some of them, gorgeous things -- and by gizmo I mean it has controls covering both side wings, like a pipe organ, not just a couple rows of tabs above the keys. Doug sat and played with one for a while. So if anyone's into keyboards and visits the fair, do look for that booth.
Designer Palms Inc. makes metal palm trees, cacti, and other items. Most are functional, with lights hidden in the coconuts or a table wrapped around the trunk. Sadly, these are not solar-powered nor do they have phone chargers hidden in them, like what some tropical countries are now making, but they are gorgeous and practical sculptures. They could be rigged for solar power as an aftermod, though. A hobby-electrician could probably figure out how to include a charger or other accessories.
This time we made it down to the Midway. :D We walked around and looked at the rides and games. They had two funhouses, one for larger people and one for smaller people. (My little Picts would be all over the second, which had a height limit of 5' to enter.) One of the balloon poppers was obviously rigged (if the balloons aren't inflated enough, they won't pop even if the darts are sharp) but the other was fair, some balloons even inflated enough to be shiny-taut. Yes, I find it amusing to look at the games and try to tell which are fair or rigged. Doug played a couple rounds at the laser shooting gallery, which was fun. It's a good one, not the best I've seen, but pretty close. I enjoy them too, but by then I was too wobbly to shoot straight. :/ All in good cause, though. I won't complain about a day cool enough that I can wear myself out instead of overheating.
On the whole, the trip rates about 9 or 9.5 out of 10 points. \o/