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Putting the State in State Fair

Cow milking, gardening tips and managing livestock are just some of the ways NC State supports the North Carolina State Fair.

The milking booth, located in the Exhibition Hall, has been a Raleigh mainstay since Jerry Spears, professor of animal science and nutrition, initiated the booth at the State Fair in 1989.

It’s affordable country fun – $2 covers the milking and a nets you a carton of milk. It also offers insight into a major North Carolina industry. The state is home to five major milk processing plants with products selling far beyond its borders.

Animal Science Club volunteers work hard managing the six milking cows (part of the NC State herd) and thousands of aspiring milkers. Cory Robbins, an animal science student, sees 2 year olds to 80 year olds coming through.

“It’s always packed,” he says.

Kids get hands-on experience at the cow milking booth. Photos by Roger Winstead.

I’m in line and Robbins assures me that milking is natural. “Don’t over think it,” he says. “If a 2 year old can do it, anyone can.”

I milk Queenie, a sweet black-and-white cow. Jessica Smith, who works at the Teaching Animal Unit in the College of Veterinary Medicine, tells me to start at the top of the udder, then squeeze and pull down. The milk hits the hay below.

I learn that hand milking is inefficient. Typically a machine milks these cows twice daily. But their fresh milk is delicious and the children lined up at the booth seem eager to find out where milk comes from.

“This exposure is something unique NC State offers locals,” Smith says.

We All Howl for Ice Cream

The fair is not complete unless you try NC State’s Howling Cow ice cream. On Monday, I joined about 40 people waiting in the rain for a taste. Castaway Coconut, the new flavor, sells OK, student volunteers say. But Nancy O’Neill, like other locals, prefers traditional strawberry. O’Neill had her own dairy cow as a girl and says Howling Cow, so creamy and fresh, is reminiscent. My $4 cherry vanilla cup is wonderful.

Food Science students scoop up Howling Cow ice cream at the State Fair.

From the Scott Building, veterinary students sell student-designed shirts sporting the college logo. These sell out every year, third-year student Deana Fauske says, and all proceeds help support student government, animal shelters and trips. Volunteers also field questions from parents and children.

“I tell everyone it’s a terrific program, the nation’s best,” Fauske says.

State Fair vendors include NC State alums, like Chris and Sharon Smith, owners of Mackey’s Ferry Peanuts. The Smiths sell their delicious peanut butters and peanuts from the local food tent. Chris graduated from the College of Engineering, Sharon from the College of Textiles, and their three sons also graduated from NC State.

The university is still a big part of their lives. They turned to NC State’s Department of Food Science for nutritional analysis of their products. Thankfully, sales have grown and the business is thriving, they say.

Mackey’s Ferry Peanuts uses local peanuts versus Georgia nuts because North Carolina’s are bigger and tastier, Sharon says, and they add molasses to some products.

“NC State has been kind to us,” Sharon says.

Helping Hands

NC State volunteers offer plenty of expertise at this year’s fair. Jim Michnowicz, associate professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, helps host the North Carolina Language and Life Project booth. The goal is educating people that North Carolina is one of the nation’s most linguistically diverse states, he says.

At the Flower and Garden Show, master gardener volunteers trained in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences field questions from locals about muscadine grapes (a growing North Carolina industry), tomatoes and how to deal with clay-rich soil.

“We suggest adding compost and nutrients to retain the moisture,” Judith Harper says.

CVM faculty actively support the animal exhibits. Mark Alley, a clinical associate professor and farm animal diseases expert, inspected 1,000-plus livestock this year for ringworm, warts and other contagions.

“Our job is communicating State Fair guidelines and keeping animals and people safe.”

Alley also assists injured animals. This year for instance, he helped a steer with a cut leg. At a previous state fair, CVM faculty treated a horse with colic. Alley enjoys volunteering, he says, because it helps his community and he gets to see his students gain exposure to hundreds of healthy animals.

“That’s how they learn the best.”