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Friday February 3rd

NC State Fair's 150th anniversary fries up tradition and innovation

The North Carolina State Fair is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
Buy Photos The North Carolina State Fair is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

The North Carolina State Fair is a 150-year-old tradition, but that doesn’t mean the vendors have run out of deep-fried concoctions and new attractions.  

“We have seen the evolution of the fair,” Brian Long, fair spokesperson, said. “When it first started, it was designed to educate farmers about new techniques. Over time, agriculture is still the foundation, and we’ve added entertainment.”

The fair also highlights the artwork of individuals across the state. The tradition of submitting pieces to be judged is long-running. Each year, the showcase is widely anticipated by fairgoers and participants alike. 

“Every year, they bring a piece in and some of them go on to be artists,” said Shirl Keith, N.C. State Fair superintendent of fine arts and photography. “They see the progression when they’re little, and then they’re seniors and they hug my neck and every year they come back to see me. That to me is rewarding.” 

Besides art, the food is a major factor in for returning fairgoers. This year, Cheerwine funnel cakes bring classic Southern flavor to the scene, while Thanksgiving egg rolls add a new twist on fall flavors. 

Cheerwine’s 100th anniversary inspired the speciality treat that debuted in the fair’s milestone year. The creators of the funnel cake inherited their spot from their grandfather who also sold food at the fair.  Inventing new foods to fry is a family affair for many vendors, while those who do not have any inside connections to spaces must be placed on an extensive waiting list.

“You either inherit a space, or you’re on a waiting list for a long time,” said Shawn Whisnant, the Thanksgiving egg roll vendor.

This fried fiesta of fair food seems to never run out of original ideas. The vendors’ creative process for such unusual battered cuisine continues through the year in preparation for the fair.

“You know, we can put a stick in that and dip it and fry it,” food vendor Paul Amburn said.

The blend of new inventions and traditional events keeps the fair exciting and relevant after a century and a half. 

By allowing alcohol for the first time this year, the fair found another way to stay in touch with the public. Long said North Carolina is the last state to have on-site consumption of alcohol at a state fair. Adding local wines and craft beers showcases a growing industry of the state and allows the fair to appeal to a wider age range. 

“Families and friends build traditions over the years,” said Long. “That's why we have 150 years.” 

The N.C. State Fair will be open until Oct. 22 and various shuttle services run from the UNC campus to the fair on weekends. General admission for adults ages 13 to 64 is $8 in advance and $10 at the gate.




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