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The Daily Tar Heel

Generations come together at the North Carolina State Fair

The North Carolina State Fair is more than good ol' Southern family fun — for some families, it's tradition.

Some of those participating in the annual agricultural competition return yearly, sometimes for several decades. Two people, NC State University junior Catherine Harward and state fair veteran Bryan Blinson, have been a part of the two-week festival since childhood.

Getting started young

Catherine Harward, junior animal science major from Richville, NC, said she has been involved in the fair since she was 10 years old. 

She started through the annual NC State Fair agricultural show, a competition in which state-based farmers can enter their best livestock, crops and honey, among other categories, in the hopes of securing a blue ribbon. 

Harward began by showing beef cattle, and now — a decade later — she volunteers with the NC State Agronomy Club to educate fair-goers about NC agriculture.

"The whole point (of the fair) is to come and show other people in the industry as well as the general public what you're doing on your farm," she said. "It's kind of like an extracurricular activity for us — some people play sports, our family, we show cattle."

She said she recalls a competition she participated in when she was 14 years old — her first in a new age division. The stars aligned and, even though she was a "newbie," she took home a win. What she remembers most about the experience was not the blue ribbon itself, she said, but the way her competitors celebrated with her, like a family.

"It kind of a big family here — everyone else, even your competitors, get excited when you win. It was an exciting time to win and it was very nice to have that big of family excited for you as well," she said.

Harward said she has younger sisters who will continue competing in the agricultural expo, but beyond that, she wants to stay involved for years to come.

"I plan on being one of those people who say they've been here for 30 years and never missed one."

Staying involved  

Harward could have been describing Bryan Blinson, of the NC Cattlemen's Association, who also started by showing beef cattle in 1974 — and is still involved in the fair 41 years later, though from behind the scenes.

Blinson, from Buies Creek, NC, now helps produce and run educational programs at the fair, spreading information about how farmers raise their animals. He said over his many years at the fair, it has gotten bigger and the shows more competitive, though the familial atmosphere hasn't changed. 

"As a kid, it's all kind of big and exciting and a little scary, but as I've grown and my children have shown and been involved, it becomes more of a family thing — seeing people you maybe haven't seen since the year before — than the competition itself," he said.

While Blinson no longer shows cattle, his children do — a favorite feature of his four decades of involvement in the fair. 

"In the grand scheme of things, watching my children participate — and watching families, generation after generation, seeing the kids grow up and seeing their kids come back and show and compete — that's the best thing."


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