The Minnesota State Fair isn’t the likeliest place to gauge interest in healthy eating.

But that’s exactly what a team of University of Minnesota researchers is doing.

Jayne Fulkerson, an associate professor at the U, is leading a research effort on healthy eating in rural communities — an attempt to reduce childhood obesity.

Like dozens of other U researchers, her team is using this year’s State Fair as a source of study participants.

Over the past several years, Fulkerson’s team has studied family meals and children’s eating habits in Minneapolis.

Expanding outside of the metro is an unusual idea: Fulkerson said she knows of just one other program in the United States that’s doing something similar.

Why is it so uncommon?

“I think it’s hard,” she said. “And I think in urban centers, you can get a pretty large group together pretty easily.”

In Minneapolis, the team partnered with the Park and Recreation Board to do a pilot study with 44 families, and then a larger one with 160 families.

In kitchens and meeting rooms at park buildings, families participated in monthly workshops for nearly a year.

Now, Fulkerson’s team has its sights set on New Ulm, in collaboration with the Heart of New Ulm project.

At the fair, the team is measuring interest in a rural healthy eating program, after a recent grant application to the National Institutes of Health came back with questions about feasibility.

The fair provides a vast pool of people to draw from. Sarah Friend, evaluation director for HOME Plus Study at the U, was set up at a booth Thursday and said she’d heard a lot of interest from people who stopped by.

Families talked about other health initiatives happening in their communities — bicycle parking, for example — but described long drives to grocery stores that often have low-quality produce.

So things are not always so different from in the cities.

“Similar things that we’re hearing from urban families,” Friend said.