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‘A labor of love’

Barn known for ice cream has been at fair for 40 years

One Albert Lea man’s efforts to promote dairy farming and products in the area has been a part of the Freeborn County Fair now for 40 years.

Paul Anderson, 87, said his life in the dairy industry began when his father bought a farm near Lerdal when he was 9 years old.

After years of milking cows and being involved with several dairy cooperatives and associations — and seeing the number of creameries and dairy operations in the area decline — he said he and another man, David Lunde, helped get the ice cream barn set up on the Freeborn County Fairgrounds in an effort to promote the industry and serve delicious ice cream at the same time.

“It’s been great fun,” he said of the effort through the years.

Anderson said Lunde actually got the idea for the barn from Zumbrota, and they initially borrowed a building and hauled that to the fair for about two years. At that time, they sold mostly Mid-America Dairymen products.

In 1981, they had the opportunity to buy the current building after the Mid-America director in Fairmont passed away. He said he and Lunde hauled it to Albert Lea, and it has been in place ever since.

Originally, there were wooden floors to the building; now there is a cement one, and the building has been hooked up to electrical and has running water and a water heater.

Anderson said he has been a part of the effort in some capacity since it started, and he currently manages the barn, including handling sales tax, liability and deposits and receives a stipend for that work, but all other work is done through volunteers.

“It’s always been for me a labor of love,” he said. “I just enjoy doing it, and you meet so many people.”

He also orders the ice cream cones every year for the fair and organizes the ice cream, as well, which currently comes from Hy-Vee.

At any given time during the fair, volunteers at the barn sell chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and maple nut ice cream, and about five years ago, they started having a flavor of the day, which he said has been popular. Customers can get their ice cream on a cone or in a bowl. They also sell root beer floats.

Proceeds from the effort go to support the American Dairy Association, the Minnesota Dairy Promotion Council, a scholarship for the county’s dairy princess each year, dairy exhibitors at the fair and youth from the county showing dairy at the state fair. 

Anderson said as he gets older — he said he had heart surgery this spring — he hopes the barn and its purpose of supporting dairy farming in the county will be continue to live on.

“It is such a part of the fair that I hope someone will keep it going,” he said.