One of NC’s biggest seasonal attractions is the State Fair in Raleigh. Here’s the who, what, where, and why of the fair’s packed schedule.
North Carolina’s state fair isn’t just about bizarre fried foods, but if you’re looking for that, you’re in the right place.
In the 1850s, its founders, the state agricultural society, wanted to “attract and encourage interaction among people from all sections of the state,” NC historian Melton McLaurin wrote in 2003. To do that, the state legislature gave them about $1,500 in 1855. There’s a bigger budget when the fair kicks off Thursday in Raleigh. It runs until Oct. 22.
Organizers of a state fair in a state like this have their work cut out for them. They have to find a way to make something for everyone. A coastal North Carolinian in 2023 isn’t much like a highlander, a Charlottean, or a Durhamite. Different cultures, economies, and histories. Different accents even.
That’s what makes North Carolina, and its annual state fair, compelling. Sameness is boring. Everyone knows that.
Which is why NC’s state fair has an incredible variety, although it’s still refreshingly centered on the agricultural economy that has sustained North Carolina and its people through civil wars, depressions, good times, and bad. The fair has selected one NC-based operation each day to be its Farm Family of the Day. Check them out here.
But you’re going to need some help sorting through all that variety. To that end, here are Cardinal & Pine’s picks for the best things to do at this year’s State Fair:
If you have kids, start at The Ark. Produce is awesome but it has nothing on a cute chick or a baby goat.
The Ark displays dozens of farm animals every day, including sheep, cattle, turkeys, and pigs. You can also milk a cow, which is either your thing or it isn’t, but I recommend it at least once.
Look for this exhibit in the Agri Supply Exhibition Center every day of the fair.
Ostrich Smashburger, and Other Wild Foods
Things we didn’t know:
- There are ostriches raised in NC.
- You can make a burger out of an ostrich.
- They will make you a NC-raised ostrich burger at the State Fair.
This new addition to the State Fair’s food offerings is from NC-based Chick-N-Que. Two patties, grilled onions, special sauce. There will be more gaudy food options at the fair—we’re looking at you bacon mac and cheese sundae—but this might be the most curious bite. Generally speaking, ostrich tastes like beef, but a more low-fat beef. Enjoy.
If ostrich isn’t your bird, we also have our eye on the pulled pork, mac and cheese danish from Gary, NC-based La Farm Bakery.
Field of Dreams
Talk about the farm experience.
If the point is to entertain the little ones and teach them something, you can’t go wrong here.
Field of Dreams is a miniature farm where kids learn how the food on our plates got there. They’ll harvest their own vegetables, take a tractor ride, and, of course, play with the bunnies.
Never forget the horse shows.
From start to finish, the fair offers low-price chances to watch our hooved friends show off. Come out for the jumping shows, mini-horses, and saddlebred horses. Even the mules, our favorite underdog, get a show.
Remember how we mentioned the diversity of NC’s regions? NC music is as diverse, excelling in bluegrass, rock, r&b, soul, funk, and hip hop.
In past years, the fair has struggled to capture all of that diversity. But this year’s lineup is all over the map. And that’s for the better. Check out the live show schedule here. It segues from SunQueen Kelcy’s genre-bending soul, hip-hop, and rock to the punk-pop of The Bleeding Hearts, the roots revival of Riggsbee Road, and Latin pop of Marcel Portilla Band.
This guide can’t possibly have caught everything at the fair.
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