Hidden Gems

At The N.C. State Fair

by Robyn Goss Bennai // October - November - December 2021

Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina!

However, after the heat and humidity of summer, fall is always a welcome change. Our beautiful state offers many wonderful locales to welcome and embrace fall. Many may drive to our magnificent mountains to see the leaves change colors. Others might escape to our glorious coast in hopes of riding the waves one more time before the brisk air settles in for a while. And some will opt to stay right here in the Triangle to enjoy the N.C. State Fair – another wonderful way to kick off fall right in our own backyard!

The N.C. State Fair began in 1853 and has been located at 1025 Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh since 1928, when the N.C. Department of Agriculture took over operations. This year, the fair will run from October 14 - October 24.

You may ask, what makes a fair, well, a fair? Some believe it’s the lights, sounds, and energy coming from the midway where you will find a variety of thrilling rides like the giant ferris wheel, exciting carnival games, and sugary sweets on every corner. For the N.C. Department of Agriculture, the fair is about educating North Carolinians on our agricultural history, arts, crafts, and culture. If you haven’t ventured from the midway in the past, or if this is your first time attending the fair, buckle up and take note of these hidden gems to explore within it…

Is that a steer?

With an average of 11,000 livestock entries, there are plenty of chances to observe people from all over the state show their cattle, sheep, lambs, and goats in the Jim Graham Building and the Exposition Center. Folks of all ages bring their animals in hopes of beating out the competition. They focus on diet, training, and grooming.

What are they judging in these competitions? Livestock judging consists of carefully analyzing animals and measuring them against a standard that is commonly accepted as being ideal. It has also been defined as a study of the relationship between an animal’s form and function.

There are other ways to learn about livestock – for example, the Dairy Farmers’ Mobile Dairy Classroom. Ever wondered what a dairy cow eats, or if kids really do need two cups of milk a day? Located between the Graham Building and Expo Center, stop by to learn the ins and outs of the modern practices that make a dairy farm successful and how dairy farmers bring you the safest, most delicious dairy products.

Horsing around?

The North Carolina Equine industry is deeply rooted in the state’s agricultural history. While horses do not play a large working role on farms any longer, the industry continues to expand in both sport and entertainment. If you have never had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of horses in an arena, then you won’t want to miss the competitions that will take place at the Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. Horse Complex (located on the Trinity Road side of the fair). Draft horses, mules, and donkeys; hunter/jumper shows; jackpot barrel racing; and miniature horses will be featured.

Rich in history

Within the Heritage Circle section of the fair, you will experience a piece of North Carolina’s rich history. There you can discover a historic working grist mill at the Old Grist Mill and receive a yummy hush puppy to boot; see a working tobacco farm; watch a double forge that state and local blacksmith guilds run; and catch live performances ranging from old-time bluegrass music to high-energy clogging to traditional square dancing.

According to the fair’s website, across the way inside the Holshouser Building at The Village of Yesteryear, “fair visitors can watch crafters spin wool into yarn, weave yarn into cloth, make rugs, turn pottery, carve wooden bowls and utensils, make split-oak baskets, and more. Native American crafts such as hand-coiled pottery, beadwork, and stone carving are also featured. Kids will even have the opportunity to make their own dolls or stuffed toys to take home.”

Food is from where?

The question of which food comes from which source can be confusing for some young children. Questions such as, “Does cheese grow from plants?” or “How are tomatoes made?” can be readily answered at your next stop – the fair’s miniature farm. Children can spend time being taken through the steps of how the food they eat is grown. Afterwards, head over to the Expo Center to take in the horticulture exhibits that will allow you to explore the plethora of produce grown in our state and wow you with supersized, awarding-winning produce on display.

Other noteworthy gems

If you need a place to feel grounded among the hustle and bustle, explore the winding pathways of beautiful gardens grown by local organizations at the Flower and Garden show. Don’t forget to take a picture in front of the giant mum tree created with more than 1,500 mums and featuring a unique design every year.

There are over 28,000 entries for general competitions which offer a variety of unique categories including culinary delights, handicrafts and hobbies, and fine arts. New to the competition this year are decorated Christmas trees, planted wheelbarrows, and decorated footwear.

For more information, visit the fair’s website at ncstatefair.org. There you can find visitor information including maps, discounts, schedules, and hours of operation. The lights and sounds of the midway are exciting and attention-grabbing for sure, but so are these hidden gems of the fair. You can learn about the daily ins and outs of what keeps our amazing state running while exploring our history as well. Remember, nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina!

Do you know of a hidden gem we should feature? Email us at info@circamagazine.com!

Robyn Goss Bennai

The Naborforce lead for the greater Raleigh metro area.