The North Carolina State Fair, So Happy Together
There’s just nothing like it. Rolling up to the sites of larger-than-life Ferris wheels, spinning, whirling and flashing carnival lights and the iconic outline of Dorton Arena in the background. The smell of fried dough fills the air as you walk the 344 acres between exhibits, musical acts, competitions, games and rides. Yes, it’s time once again for the North Carolina State Fair.
On this episode of Farms, Food and You, we’ll hear from North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner and NC State University alumnus Steve Troxler to talk all things North Carolina State Fair.
There’s just nothing like it. Rolling up to the sites of larger-than-life Ferris wheels, spinning, whirling, flashing carnival lights and the iconic outline of Dorton Arena in the background. The smell of fried dough fills the air as you walk the 344 acres between exhibits, musical acts, competitions, games and rides. Yes, it’s time once again for the North Carolina State Fair.
First hosted by the State Agricultural Society in 1853, the fair is now in its 169th year, celebrating a long history of showcasing and promoting the state’s agriculture, agribusiness, arts, crafts and culture. That means folks in the agricultural community get to show off their finest livestock, crops and new technology, and urban visitors get to feast their eyes on everything that agriculture touches in our state. Here at Farms, Food and You we have our favorites of course–anyone else love those blue ribbon winning cakes and giant pumpkins? But truth be told, we’re fans of everything packed into the 11 days and nights of tummy-turning rides, deep-fried deliciousness, carnival games, and events that showcase every aspect of our state’s agricultural heritage.
Today on Farms, Food and You, we’ll hear from N.C. Agriculture Commissioner, and NC State alumnus, Steve Troxler to talk all things North Carolina State Fair.
Well, you know, the State Fair started a long time ago as a way to educate farmers on the newest production, new equipment and new seed, and over time, as there are fewer and fewer farmers, the goal now is to educate the public about the importance of agriculture in North Carolina and where does your food come from? And mind them that all the food supply starts at the farm. So they’re going to be a lot of agricultural exhibits at the fair, and we hope everybody will pay close attention.
Among those exhibits, are the popular Flower and Garden Show, the State Fair Ark where visitors can get up and personal with more than 60 farm animals. Beyond seeing sheep, goats and swine, visitors can even try their hand at milking a cow. Also not to be missed is the Got to Be NC tent off the Scott Building, which will host cooking demonstrations, farmer spotlights and opportunities to taste and purchase products developed by North Carolina farmers.
And don’t forget about all the competitions. From 4-H youth showing their prize cows to giant vegetables, wine and quilts, there will be blue ribbon winners in myriad categories to knock your socks off. More than $600,000 in prize money is awarded each year to competitive exhibitors.
It helps us make the connection from the farm to the table. That giant pumpkin is just an example of pumpkins that we raise in North Carolina. Most of them are not that large, but the pumpkins that we raise, of course, we think about, jack-o-lanterns on Halloween, but also that means pumpkin pie. That means pumpkin bread. So trying to make that connection from seeing the actual food in these exhibits and then showing how it ends up as food for the human beings, that’s an important connection that we need to make.
You know, our youth need to understand, what is animal agriculture? This is, you know, part of your food supply. And we want you to see how carefully we care for these animals and how much these animals mean to the state. But also the humane treatment that these animals receive on a daily basis on these farms. And when you see these kids that are showing these animals, I mean, you get that sense of how much they really respect and love the animals. That’s true throughout animal agriculture in North Carolina.
The N.C. State Fair also pays tribute to the crops that help build the state’s economy.
I love everything about the N.C. State Fair, but I have put up a lot of emphasis on the Heritage area of the fair. The Heritage buildings, the crafts that we showcase and the Village of Yesteryrear. I absolutely love history and love those kinds of things. The old tobacco barn that we feel on opening day and cure the tobacco during fair is a huge attraction. But that’s the history of North Carolina. And we still raise a lot of tobacco. We want people to understand this is how it started. This has been the number one crop in North Carolina for a long, long time.
So that end of the fairgrounds is something that is very special to me. And we have, even in the past year, done some more things down there. I’ve always wanted to showcase natural resources that we have in North Carolina. So, last year, we were able to build the Bob Stanfield Natural Resource Center. And this is where our forest industry and our soil and water folks showcase the natural resources of North Carolina. And then this year we have added a gate right at the top of the fairgrounds on the backside right across from the horse ring. And we have a new parking lot that we call the Cardinal Light that you come in off of 54 and Chapel Hill Road. And then we will use trams to haul people from there to this brand new gate. And the first place you gotta go is through the natural resource and area part of that is the flower show. That’s another one of my favorites. It’s one of the most beautiful areas you’ll ever see. So if you come in the Cardinal Gate, we’re gonna have that rightin the beginning. So I’m excited about that.
Another new edition to the fair this year is a designated area where visitors can learn about and sample North Carolina beers and wines.
We call it the North Carolina State Fair Public House, and it’s on the backside of Dorton Arena. And this is our North Carolina beer and wines. People are welcome to come in and partake of the goodies of North Carolina and the beer and wine industry. That’s another kind of relaxing thing to do at the State Fair.
And one thing I’ve got to mention is a change that involves NC State. Howling Cow Ice Cream is gonna move into Restaurant Road this year, so everybody will be able to go to Restaurant Row and get their Howling Cow Ice Cream. And I was looking at the history and the Food club has actually been selling ice cream at the State Fair since 1978, ice cream that NC state produced.
Commissioner Troxler is expecting large attendance this year. He recommends getting your tickets early and planning to visit more than once.
Well, the legacy is it’s always been an agricultural fair, and it’s always going to be an agricultural fair. But what we have to do is we have to work to keep it relevant and keep it attractive. We are in the entertainment business and so there’s competition with football games, NASCAR, pro football. So we have to keep it interesting, relevant, and also make it convenient.
Well, you know, this is a North Carolina tradition. It is the largest event in North Carolina every time that we put it on. We set a record at over a million people a few years ago. So, we are prepared to handle as many people as can come to the State Fair. And the crowds is what I love to see. And it’s also like a homecoming for us. We see people at the State Fair for year after year after year that maybe we don’t get to see on a regular basis. So I look forward to seeing the people come from all over and enjoy in the North Carolina State Fair. And the truth is you can’t do it in one day and see everything, ride everything, eat all the food. So make plans to come several times.
We know several members from the Farms, Food and You team will be heeding that advice, so keep an eye out for us when you walk through the agricultural exhibits. We’ll be the ones posing with the giant vegetables, cooing over the baby goats and cooling off with a little Howling Cow ice cream.
Thank you for joining us on Farms, Food and You. This podcast is a product of NC State Extension and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. If you would like to support the show, please share this episode on social media and leave a review on your podcasting app of choice. Let’s talk soon!