The N.C. State Fair is full of surprises and hidden gems. When you work at the fair for the first time, like I did in 2019, those things add up quickly. If you’ve visited before, it’s easy to think you know pretty much everything there is to know. If you’ve visited a lot, you learn even more and find even more surprises and gems over the years.
I can say I learned a lot by working at the fair and being inside the gates for all eleven days in 2019 (plus a week before opening day too). I wasn’t alone either. In 2019, three of us in the NCDA&CS Public Affairs Division were working at our first State Fair. That’s exactly half of the Public Affairs office!
The office normally consists of only six people, and during the fair we join the State Fair’s fulltime public information officer to form the State Fair Press Office. We put out all the information about the fair. It’s a lot of stuff, from new foods and parking, to health, safety and security. We share details about special events such as the opening ceremony, livestock shows, the giant pumpkin weighing and the canned food drive. We announce winners of contests throughout the fair too, and we help any time Commissioner Troxler is on the grounds at a speaking engagement. The list goes on and on.
Now that three of us are entering our second State Fair, we wanted to reflect on some of the unexpected things we learned about the fair as we saw it through new eyes. Public information officer Giant Watermelon (Joey Pitchford) had been with NCDA&CS for seven months when the 2019 N.C. State Fair began. I, public information officer Tractor Pull (Brandon Herring) started on Sept. 30, 2019 – two and a half weeks before the fair started. Social media coordinator Rollercoaster (Taylor Parrish) started on Oct. 14, 2019 – the Monday before the fair started on Thursday.
Here are some of our first-year observations that may help you enjoy the fair even more:
- You can get a decent meal. It’s not all sweets and deep-fried treats.
There’s not doubt when I think about any fair, I think about the delicious food. The first things that come to mind are funnel cakes and candy apples. Maybe cotton candy or any number of other confections or fried foods. What I came to realize is that there are plenty of “normal” food offerings too. I was surprised to find sirloin tips, crab cakes and Mediterranean pita sandwiches. That’s just scratching the surface. I’m sure there are even more “real meals” to be found.
- You can have a great time without riding a single ride.
I know there are a lot of people who do this. They never ride any ride, and they still have fun. I knew it was possible, but to be honest, before I worked at the fair, if I skipped the rides I would have said I had a good time, not a great time. Now that I know about all the other “grounds acts” that are at the State Fair, I know you can have a great time without the rides – even with kids. I’ve certainly always enjoyed the exhibits and seeing the winners of competitions, including the ones about agriculture. I come from a farming family after all. Something I’d overlooked in the past is the “grounds acts.” That includes everything from the live music on the waterfall and bluegrass stages, to the stilt walkers, street drum corps and Bandaloni (a quirky one-man band). The Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Log Run and the Cast in Bronze Carillon are incredibly entertaining too. These acts rotate out and new ones come along every few years.
- There’s a spot for kids to learn about growing food.
I love the often overlooked Field of Dreams. It’s quaint and wholesome. It’s targeted for kids, but there are lots of people these days who could learn from seeing exactly how some of our food grows. Please, take your kids to this hidden gem outside the southeast side of Dorton. Let them pretend to harvest vegetables and sell them at a farm stand. It’s the heart of agriculture. We could all use a little more of that simplicity.
- The fair is so much more than just a good time: As a kid growing up, the State Fair was to me what it is to a lot of people — a place to go have fun and eat whatever is getting put between two donuts this year. It wasn’t until I started working at the fair that I realized how much more is really going on. From livestock shows and the sale of champions to prestigious events like the Livestock Hall of Fame induction and Century Farm reunion, there are things going on nearly every day of the fair that people have worked all year or longer to prepare for. The fair is more than a place for people to enjoy themselves — it’s a place where lifetimes of hard work and dedication are recognized.
- Be willing to try something new: I am guilty of being a creature of habit. I have things that I like and I stick to them, and that extends to the things I like to do at the state fair. This is especially true with food; my coworkers have taken to asking me if I’ve had my daily Hickory Tree Barbecue yet. Since I’ve begun working at the fair, however, I’ve come to realize just how lucky we are to have such a diverse array of choices, both culinary and otherwise, here at the fair. My advice is to eat something you’ve never eaten before, spend some time in an exhibit you’ve previously passed by, and maybe finally get on that fun-looking ride you’ve been nervously eyeing up until now.
My first experience working the N.C. State Fair was fast and furious to say the least. Ever since I was a little kid I have loved the State Fair. Each year my parents would bring me here to experience the rides, food, games and agriculture exhibits. Then as I got older it was a tradition that I looked forward to experiencing with my friends. My favorite parts of the fair have always been Deep Fried Oreos, the Fireball ride, the Ferris Wheel and a pineapple slushie from Tropical Delights.
- Come to the fair more than once: I have to be honest and say that I was a little afraid when I started this job that working out at the fair every single day would ruin it for me. It’s done the exact opposite! My first day on the job was Media Day 2019, which for those of you who don’t know is where the Best New Food each year for the N.C. State Fair is voted on by local media outlets, social media influencers and bloggers. To say it was a whirlwind is an understatement. Have you ever heard the phrase, “throw someone in the deep end to see if they can really swim?” That’s very much how I felt. However, I am also the type of person who thrives in busy atmospheres, which might be why I love the N.C. State Fair so much. There is so much to see and do out here that you certainly can take advantage of coming out more than once in the eleven days the fair is open!
- Take advantage of every opportunity: One of the most important lessons that I learned during the 2019 N.C. State Fair was to take advantage of every opportunity given to you. Especially in busy atmospheres like the fair, vendors and attendees alike are from all different parts of the world and various walks of life. Being willing to ask and listen to their stories is how you truly delve into the richness, heritage and culture of the N.C. State Fair, and I don’t just say that from a marketing perspective. The fair is so much more than good food, rides and games each year. The fair supports and showcases people across our state who work hard to create local products that we love and enjoy. Their stories and life experiences are what make the fair come alive each year. It’s the people that make this fair, not the events, rides or food. I made so many friends that year, from food vendors and game workers to farmers and candy makers, each sharing a unique story that brought them to the fair as well as the special place it holds in their heart.
- Check out new exhibits and areas of the fair: My favorite aspect of working the fair was how much more I saw than when I attended. Normally when I would come to the fair, I had my punch list of “must have” or “must do” items, but when you work the fair, there are all sorts of things across the grounds that you are responsible for attending and getting footage of. For example, I never spent much time in the flower and garden show before and I had never even explored the forestry building prior to 2019. With that being said, my biggest advice to fairgoers this year is to take on a new adventure and check out some of the areas you don’t normally visit. I promise you they will not disappoint!
Over the last two years we have come to love the fair even more not only because we get to have a hand in the behind-the-scenes action as well as the promotion of it, but also because we have more time out here to experience with our coworkers, friends and family. Enjoy the State Fair this year with those that you love. We promise it will be Worth The Wait!