State fairs have long history with agriculture, education
Fill a tote bag – hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, raincoat, umbrella, extra layer for warmth, rain boots, water bottle. Find the car keys and wallet and hop in the car. Destination - the Alaska State Fair! It wouldn’t be summer without at least one fair visit to marvel at giant vegetables, listen to bleating goats, crowing chickens, buzzing honey bees and enjoy local Alaskan fair foods like rhubarb-lemonade and fried, local peanut potatoes.
State fairs have been part of American culture since the mid 1800s, providing education and entertainment and showcasing agricultural products and technology as well as arts, crafts and local specialty foods. Alaska’s fairs began in Fairbanks with the Tanana Valley Fair in 1924 followed by the Matanuska Valley Fair in 1936. After Alaska statehood, these became the Tanana Valley State Fair and the Alaska State Fair. Like the state or county “grange” fairs in other parts of the country, the fairs were organized by individuals with an interest in agriculture or by state or local agricultural societies.
The Tanana Valley Fair in Fairbanks was organized, in part, by George Gasser, who had originally been a director of the federal agricultural Experiment Station in Rampart, and then of the Experiment Station in Fairbanks. He became a professor at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines and later became a director of the Cooperative Extension Service.
The formation of the Cooperative Extension Service in Alaska culminated efforts to include the then-Territory of Alaska in a nationwide system of agriculturally oriented teaching, research, and extension programs administered by land-grant colleges. The early Cooperative Extension Service provided information “on agricultural production and on the improvement of rural life through home economics and 4-H and youth programs, extending federally supported university research to all areas in each state.
Today, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service still provides communities information with nutrition and food preservation classes, education and research for home gardeners and agriculture, small business development and popular 4-H youth programs. Many fair entries (canned goods, flowers, etc.) are indirectly the result of Extension education and research and the efforts of youth mentoring in 4-H clubs.
Cooperative Extension faculty and our Extension volunteers (the Association for Family and Community Education, Master Gardeners, 4-H families) also help judge entries, conduct educational programs and answer questions during the fairs, either at the Cooperative Extension Service booth or in the 4-H exhibit hall.
My first stop at the fair, unless the smell of food gets me, is always the 4-H exhibits – arts and crafts, flowers, vegetables, baked goods, and displays describing scientific and agricultural investigations. Last year’s youth vegetable projects were truly impressive with many who visited this exhibit at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer mistaking the 4-H entries for the giant vegetable contest entries.
With a more than 75 year history in Alaska and more than 150 years in the Lower 48, annual “agricultural” fairs still entertain, educate and celebrate local community culture. Whether you make it to a fair this year in Haines, Ninilchik, Fairbanks or Palmer, visit the Cooperative Extension Service and 4-H exhibits to pick up our latest publications and to see how some Alaska youth have been spending their time this year.
Leslie Shallcross is a registered dietitian and associate professor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension.
Tanana Valley State Fair, Aug. 5-14 in Fairbanks. Admission $5 for seniors age 60 and older. Lunch is free for seniors and their caretakers on Wed., Aug. 10, noon to 2 p.m. http://www.tananavalleyfair.org
Kenai Peninsula Fair, Aug. 19-21 in Ninilchik. Admission price is $6 for seniors. http://www.kenaipeninsulafair.com.
Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Aug. 25-Sept. 5. Senior (age 65 and older) admission is $9 weekdays, $10 weekends (discount of $2 if tickets are pre-purchased before Aug. 24). http://www.alaskastatefair.org or call 745-4827.
Kodiak Rodeo and State Fair, Sept. 3-4. Visit the Kodiak Rodeo and State Fair Facebook page or http://www.kodiakrodeostatefair.org for info and updates or call 487-4440 or 942-0270.