With so many activities, entertainers and exhibits to see, it is no surprise that many happy family memories and traditions are made at the annual N.C. State Fair. In fact, a number of families return year after year to eat at their favorite food stands, see the racing pigs or check to see if they won a ribbon in a competition.
If you don’t have your favorite stops already planned, here are some free, fun family-friendly activities to check out at the fair:
* Step right up and weigh in — As counterintuitive as it seems, many people like to weigh themselves in public at the State Fair, and not just at the Fool the Guesser games. The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Standards Division operates an officially calibrated scale in the Education Building where you can get a printed card with your weight on it. Some people like to weigh in the morning and then again at the end of the day after a few fair foods.
* Educational exhibits — Want to learn more about animal agriculture in the state, or some of North Carolina’s top agricultural commodities or the role bees play in producing food? How about pottery making or weaving? Or perhaps you are interested in the types of careers that are available in agriculture today? There are exhibits for all of that. Check out the State Fair Ark for information on animal agriculture, the Field of Dreams exhibit for other agricultural commodities, the Village of Yesteryear and Heritage Circle for old-time crafts and household needs and the Cultivate a Career tent for agricultural career information. Learn about bees in the Expo Building or about the state’s Christmas tree industry in Dorton Arena. The State Fair Scavenger Hunt, which can be found online at http://ow.ly/dHfkt, will help visitors navigate around to all the exhibits.
* Racing pigs — This smile-producing attraction, featuring piglets in competition for Cheese Doodles, is especially popular. Be sure to arrive early to get your seat in the stands.
* Keep your eyes open for the “big and tall stuff” — The giant pumpkins and watermelons on display in the Expo Center always draw a crowd, but also look for the oversized sweet potatoes in the horticulture display. The Got to Be NC Big Cart, a 13-foot-tall shopping cart, and the Got to Be NC RV are both on display outside the Got to Be NC Agriculture exhibit outside the Kerr Scott Building. Also, stroll through the Flower and Garden Show area to see and have your picture made with the supersized Adirondack chair. While you are walking around, also be on the lookout for stiltwalker Carrie McQueen, the 9-foot-tall Rock-it the Robot and the unique act Divine.
* Tap your feet, clap your hands — The Folk Festival is a celebration of traditional North Carolina music and dance. Some adult participants have been competing since they were youngsters, so there is a real feeling of family here. The music is spirited and the dancing is high-energy fun. Shows are daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the tent behind the Kerr Scott Building.
* Tap into your inner chef — With the variety of food on the fairgrounds, it is not difficult to churn up the culinary creativity. Check out Neomonde Bakery’s daily bread-making demonstrations at 1 and 4 p.m. near the church and Village of Yesteryear, look for the decorated cakes in the Education Building, sample free hush puppies in the Education Building and at the old Grist Mill, or stop in the Got to Be NC Agriculture tent to learn about the many food products made in North Carolina.
* Music is in the air — It is not hard to find some great music at the State Fair, with two dedicated musical stages and nightly shows in Dorton Arena. Pull up a chair and relax to the sounds of bluegrass, rhythm and blues, beach music, alternative country or folk music at the Kitchen Craft Waterfall Stage or Bluegrass Stage.
* Fresh from the farm — Many visitors don’t live on farms, but the State Fair offers fairgoers many opportunities to see farm animals up close. The State Fair Ark in the Expo Center features a display of junior livestock grand champions, along with horses, mules, mini donkeys and baby chicks. Livestock competitions are held throughout the fair in the Graham Building and the Expo Center. It’s tempting and they are cute, but please no touching. New this year is a mobile dairy classroom that will be set up near the Expo Center for daily milking demonstrations. The traveling milking parlor, operated by Southwest Dairy Farmers, will include information on the modern milking process, cow anatomy and the nutritional benefits of dairy foods.
* Go to Kiddieland Fun Park — Kiddieland Fund Park near Dorton Arena will be the setting for a clown, a magic show, a roving artist and a man who plays the spoons. Performances are held at various times throughout the day.
* Not free, but still fun — The Midway includes more than 100 rides.