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Fair is slice of N.C. life, sans guns

For hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents, one of the year’s most anticipated events kicked off Thursday.

The N. C. State Fair began its 147th run at 3 p.m. when the gates opened. The first fair, a four-day event put on by the State Agricultural Society in 1853, drew 4,000 people. It missed a few years due to wars and economic tempests, but it has been going strong every year since World War II and now draws more than 800,000 visitors a year.

The fair’s primary mission is, according to its website, to “showcase and promote the state’s agriculture, agribusiness, arts, crafts and culture.” And, with a nod toward our changing character, the fair is “an opportunity for the state’s ever-increasing urban population to learn about agriculture through educational and competitive exhibits in the areas of livestock, horticulture, cooking, folk art and more.”

The fair is a reminder of the importance that agriculture retains in this state, importance easy to lose sight of amid the Triangle’s urban resurgence and suburban sprawl. But our agricultural industry “contributes $78 billion to the state’s economy, accounts for more than 17 percent of the state’s income, and employs 16 percent of the work force,” according to the state Department of Agriculture. “The state ranks seventh nationally in farm profits with a net farm income of over $3.3 billion.”

But from the start, the fair has shown off far more than our agricultural strengths. It has celebrated technological innovations that trace the advance of modernity. Electricity was first used at the fairgrounds in 1884.

President Theodore Roosevelt dropped by in 1905 (presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton would later visit), and in 1910, the fair had an airplane exhibit. In 1954, WUNC-TV aired its first broadcast from the two-year-old livestock pavilion.

Of course, for many people a great pleasure of the fair is being able to ingest pretty much any variety of fried food — the odder, the better — without guilt.  And we’re delighted that a judge’s ruling on Monday, as Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler was briefing media folks on the upcoming fair, upheld his decision to continue banning firearms. The prospect of accidental — or angry — gunshots seemed to pose a more immediate health risk than one of this year’s featured offerings, Reese’s cups wrapped with bacon, breaded and deep fried.

The fair will close Oct. 26, so there’s plenty of time to visit. It’s worth the trip.

— The Herald-Sun

Durham

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