Entering the Pitt County American Legion Agricultural Fair is stepping into an alternate universe.
Bright lights whirl and metal machines with many arms twist and turn. Children squeal with delight and barkers entice you to throw a dart and win a stuffed animal. The savory aroma of onions and peppers on a flat-top grill mingles with the sweet scent of funnel cakes. Your taste buds are tempted by cotton candy and corn dogs and all sorts of things you wouldn't usually eat.
It's sensory overload that, in today's world of office cubicles and texting, is rarely experienced.
The Pitt County American Legion Agricultural Fair, celebrating it 98th birthday this year, is the same as it ever was: part traveling carnival, part livestock exhibition, part feast, part local talent show -- and totally a celebration of Pitt County, its people and its history.
The Midway is the main attraction for many fair-goers. Powers Great American Midways, one of the top traveling amusement companies in the United States, will bring in 35 carnival rides. There'll be the traditional rides -- Merry-go-round, bumper cars, swings, a big slide and a Fun House -- and there'll be the spectacular thrill rides with names like Fireball, Khaos, Freak Out and Rock Star.
The traditional Midway games will be there, too. You can still win a goldfish by throwing a coin and knock over bottles or shoot a target to win prizes.
And the must-have fair food will be available, from longtime favorites like candy apples, Italian sausage and popcorn to the new-fangled offerings of Deep Fried Oreos, cheese sticks and nachos.
Free entertainment includes live musical performances, a comedic magician/mentalist, a one-man band, an arielist, rope tricks, a display of antique bicycles, and roving robots and animated chickens that sing and tell jokes.
But when you step away from the Midway, you'll discover the heart of the Pitt County Agricultural Fair. In a county once predominantly supported by farming, the fair celebrates the contributions of the people who continue to grow crops and raise animals.
The livestock shows spotlight young 4-H'ers who raise rabbits, goats, lambs, heifers, hogs, rabbits and chickens. The youth, ages 5-18, present their animals in the show ring for judging.
Displayed in the exhibition hall are prize-wining field crops including the biggest melon, the biggest pumpkin and the best corn, cotton and tobacco. The horticulture division includes youth and adult competitions for the best sweet potatoes, collards, cucumbers, watermelons and apples.
The floral competition includes roses, sunflowers, marigolds and dish gardens.
The fair also celebrates the tradition of creating something by hand, from scratch. Competitors vie for blue ribbons and bragging rights.
In the exhibit hall are displays of prize-winning cakes, pies, bread, candy, cookies, pickles and canned fruits and vegetables.
There are also contests for photography, hand-crafted wreaths, drawings, knitted afghans, clothing, wood working, gift wrapping and pottery.
The entire fair experience is one of community and tradition. And it exists because of the dedication of local American Legion posts.
The fair, founded in 1920, shifted ownership a number of times before the veterans service organization took it over in 1936. Members of American Legion Post 39 in Greenville, Post 151 in Farmville and Post 289 in Ayden have operated the Pitt County American Legion Agricultural Fair ever since. Legionnaires provide the money, volunteers, support and dedication to keep the fair operating as a nonprofit organization, under the direction of Fair Manager Ken Ross and his wife, Phyllis Ross.
The fair is one more gift from the veterans who protect and serve our country. It strengthens the community and keeps traditions alive.
And it's fun, too.
Jane Welborn Hudson, a native of Greenville, is a former staff writer for The Daily Reflector, where she was editor of Her... magazine and Greenville: Life in the East and several other niche publications. Email her at email@example.com.
Pitt County American Legion Agricultural Fair
Sept. 19-24, 2017
Pitt County Fairgrounds, 3901 N.E. Greenville Blvd.
Adult admission, $6; children ages 4 and under are admitted free. Parking is free.
Hours of operation for the 2017 Pitt County Fair:
Tuesday, Sept. 19: Gates open at 5:30 pm, Midway opens at 6 pm, fair closes at 11 pm
Wednesday, Sept. 20: Gates open at 3 pm, Midway opens at 4 pm, fair closes at 11 pm
Thursday, Sept. 21: Gates open at 3 pm, Midway opens at 4 pm, fair closes at 11 pm
Friday, Sept. 22; Gates open at 3 pm, Midway opens at 4 pm, fair closes at 11 pm
Saturday, Sept, 23: Gates open at 1 pm, Midway opens at 2 pm, fair closes at midnight
Sunday, Sept. 24: Gates open at 1 pm, Midway opens at 2 pm, fair closes at 8 p m