By Abigail Pittman, Brynn Moore, and Kristy Stevenson

It’s Fair time again in the capital city, and despite a washout from Tropical Storm Michael on the originally slated first day, the 2018 N.C. State Fair opened in full swing on Friday, Oct. 12 and will run through Sunday, Oct. 21. From delicious delicacies and an exciting concert lineup, to talented exhibitors and midway rides and entertainment, the Fair has something for everyone this October. But do you know why their roots are in agriculture? Read on.

Agricultural Influence

The N.C. Department of Agriculture began work in 1877. At the time, the State Fair was celebrating its 24th year in business. However, it wasn’t until 1928 that the Agriculture Department gained control of the Fair. After, they began to place an emphasis on livestock and farming. In fact, the J.S. Dorton Arena was originally named the “State Fair Livestock Pavilion” when it was built in 1952. When Fair themes began to pop up in 1985, agriculture was a hot topic—the first theme was “The Year of Agriculture.” Livestock scholarships were created in 2005.

The Fair’s emphasis on agriculture is not misplaced. Agriculture is a large North Carolina industry, with farms bringing in $76 billion each year. Crops include tobacco, sweet potatoes, cotton, and peanuts. Our Fair actually began as a way for farmers to learn from other farmers about new techniques and ways of doing things. Part of the message of the Fair is to help people understand where their food comes from. “That’s an important connection for us,” says press office director Andrea Ashby, “and the core of what our state was built from.” Visit the event’s Got to Be N.C. tent where this year’s vendors include Ungraded Produce, Two Roosters Ice Cream, and Mackey’s Ferry Peanuts.
Apple production allows N.C. to be ranked seventh nationally! That’s why apple cider and candied apples, all fresh from local farms, are available at the Fair. For a taste of local cuisine, visit Al’s French Fries. They only serve the tasty appetizer, and they source their potatoes from Ford’s Produce in Raleigh, so you know it will be fresh! If you venture down to Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café, you can enjoy N.C. seafood as well.
The Fair also hosts a variety of contests. One such contest is the livestock judging. Adults and children alike bring in cows, pigs, and the like to be judged. Livestock scholarships are also available to those who qualify. Several scholarships were worth $3500 this year, but the amount is contingent on how much money goes to the previous year’s Sale of Champions, so that could change in coming years.  
The Flower and Garden Show is a staple of the State Fair. Gardeners’ plants and herbs are judged, and several groups enter the outdoor contest each year. In this contest, groups create a scene based on a theme with their plants and some props. And don’t forget about Heritage Circle. There, everything is done the old-fashioned way. Tobacco will hang from a barn’s rafters as it cures by a wood fire. Hushpuppies are made with the help of the Old Grist Mill. Ice cream is made before your eyes, and a short walk away is the Village of Yesteryear, which sports artisans of all sorts of disciplines, from weaving baskets to weaving on a loom, from wood sculpture to paper crafts, and from glass blowing to clay modeling. All of it is on display as you walk by, and worth the trip!

Take It All In

The annual event serves as the optimal experience for exploring different animals, learning about livestock, tasting wacky foods, and meeting friendly North Carolinians! “There’s a lot that can be learned from spending a day at the Fair,” says Ashby.

There are learning opportunities for all ages; visitors are allowed to milk cows in the Graham Building and Expo Center. Opportunities like this one are imperative for understanding the pivotal role farmers play in North Carolina. You are even are able to unleash your inner beekeeper and maintain the honeybees and learn about the critters’ critical part in agriculture. For the artistic minded, grades K-12 are welcomed to indulge in arts and crafts. Some pieces are even put on display in the Kerr Scott building.

“There’s a lot that can be learned from spending
a day at the Fair.”
N.C. State University’s department of engineering knows a thing or two about what makes attractions like the Super Cyclone work. Laura Bottomly, director of the engineer unit, explains that the clicking of a roller coaster moving upwards on the track is the motor adding kinetic energy into the system. As you reach the peak (in other words the real fear factor), potential energy is released and the rest of the ride is speed! Who knew engineering could be so fun?
The N.C. State Fair emphasizes environmental conservation for our earth’s next generation. This includes informational booths and kid-engaging lectures about soil and the water cycle, explaining how our state undergoes conservation efforts. Every station is equipped with knowledgeable environmentalists that make learning fun. And virtual reality headsets are available in agricultural booths, where viewers can get a first-hand look at what it’s like to maintain crops, raise livestock, and perform some of the many tasks farmers take on day to day to deliver our food.
Want to be part of the fun? Then become an adventurer and take the scavenger hunt challenge! Each year the Fair offers two scavenger hunts: one that features questions relating to exhibits and locations on the fairgrounds; and another that’s STEM-based and requires some math skills. Fairgoers can print out a copy in advance of their visit, or stop by the Expo Center to pick one up. Both scavenger hunts take you through many of the onsite educational exhibits to help you will learn more about our soil, forests, plants, agricultural crops and livestock, how fireworks get their bright colors and how important pollinators are to our food. Completed pages can be turned into the information booth in front of the Expo Center for a State Fair Adventurer ribbon. Good luck!

[Rhett and Link photo courtesy of Kristy Stevenson. All other images courtesy of the N.C. State Fair.]