• Charlotte Burks

California Project: The Big Fresno Fair

Though supposedly October is a fall month, here in the Central Valley, temperatures tend to stay around what much of the country would probably consider summer weather, or at least warmer weather. On Wednesday, October 13, when I went to visit the “Big, Big, Big Fresno Fair”, the weather was no exception.

An annual event within the valley, the Fresno Fair first opened its gates in 1883, with the main attraction being the horse races which still run today, as well as a few other exhibits that might sound familiar to present day patrons, such as livestock and produce displays. In contrast to the small start in 1883, in 2021 the Big Fresno Fair held exhibits in Fine Arts and Photography, Livestock, Botany (the Greenhouse), Gems and Minerals, and Junior Exhibits. To add to all those exhibits, there was also plenty of shopping, appetizing fair food, live entertainment and carnival games and rides.



Parking our car in the infield parking lot off of Kings Canyon Road, I marveled at the fact that for the first time in my life we got parking in the front row of the parking lot, closest to the entrance (granted, we arrived an hour early on accident). Regardless, once we finally entered the fairgrounds an hour later, my childhood nostalgia kicked in and I began smiling as I toured the fairgrounds yet another year.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, masks were a common thing to see on the fairgrounds, though especially outside it was highly individual whether or not one was wearing a mask. The livestock exhibit was smaller than it once was, with only part of the livestock pavilion open to the public. Within it were adorable pygmy goats, a massive turkey, chickens, cows, and other animals that one would see on Central Valley farms. In the background, one could see 4-H and FFA youth preparing their animals for their competitions.

Above: Pygmy goats within the livestock exhibit. In the background, the area where local 4-H and FFA chapters prepare their animals for showmanship, judging, and auction.


In neighboring buildings, there were paintings, sketches, sculptures, displays, poems, and other pieces of art made by the youth of Fresno, and neighboring cities and counties. To me, these exhibits displayed some of the artistic best that the Central Valley has to offer. Expression, thought, creativity, all put into one work and all these works in one building, was a powerful display of the capability of the up and coming artists of the Fresno area.

Additionally, unlike years past, the precious gems and stones exhibit was combined with the greenhouse, or botanical, exhibit. Both exhibits were beautifully curated, and the change was made in order to make space for a new commercial area- “Livin’ Local Marketplace”. This exhibit was unique in that it highlighted local creators and businesses. Especially after the pandemic hurt so many small and local businesses, it seemed poignant to have and highlight this exhibit specifically. The products inside seemed high quality and beautiful, ranging from dried fruit, to photography, to dried, pinned, decorative insects.

Above: The Livin' Local Marketplace, featuring solely local creators and business owners. Located where the Gems and Minerals exhibit once was.

Above: A display located within the Greenhouse Exhibit, which features botany from local youth and adults. Currently, the Greenhouse shares the building with the Gems and Minerals exhibit.


Of course, there was the usual fair food. It is much to my own chagrin that I must admit I did not end up eating actual fair food- the lines were too long, and frankly as a high school student I cannot afford to splurge $23 on a plate of chicken kebab, no matter how tempting the offer is to me. There were also the usual carnival games and fair rides, which unfortunately I did not play or ride, once more due to the massive lines. However, I can say that as someone who fears roller coasters, the rides seemed absolutely terrifying to me. I’m sure they would seem fun to everyone else though.


My experience overall at the Big Fresno Fair, 2021, was positive, and I would have recommended to anyone who had the opportunity to get out there and experience it for themselves. It is not, by any means, a complete reprieve from the stresses of the pandemic- masks are everywhere, and in fact the day that I went to the fair the Midland concert (a band that was supposed to perform) was cancelled as one of their players got COVID.

With all that said, it felt good to get out there again, and to see what the area has to offer. The Fresno Fair comes back annually, and each year it seems to grow, or at least change slightly. You never know what you’ll see, what music you’ll hear, or what food you’ll taste. It’s the beauty of this disruption of monotony that has, for over a century, drawn crowds back to the Fresno Fair Grounds, regardless of where in the Central Valley they come from. That is the beauty of the Big Fresno Fair, which at its core, is a beautiful representation of the community that puts it together.


Above: A picture I managed to catch as I left the Big Fresno Fair. Until next year!


Sources:

https://www.fresnofair.com/p/education/museums/big-fresno-fair-museum/history-of-horse-racing

https://www.fresnofair.com/p/plan/general-info



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