The Alaska State Fair is the rite of autumn for many Alaskans who trek to Palmer to see everything from giant cabbages to monster trucks and baby pigs.

This week on Frontiers, just before the state fair gets underway in Palmer on Thursday, we look back on its 80-year history.

Some of the highlights:

    • KTVA’s Megan Mazurek visits the VanderWeele family farm in Palmer. Ben VanderWeele, a 10th generation farmer, shares the secret of his family’s success.
    • A look at the fair’s 80th Anniversary Quilt, designed by Ruth Hulbert, a descendant of the Matanuska Susitna Valley Colonists.
    • Guests this week: Kelly Larson, marketing manager for the state fair, and Dr. Talis Colberg, who has written extensively about the founding of the fair in 1936.

This show certainly has given me a new appreciation for the state fair. Even as we looked back at the fair’s early days, it occurred to me that the fair was, both then and now, always about the future — whether sharing the best of what Alaskan farmers, crafters, bakers and artists had to offer, or seeing new products, or politicians passing out buttons and brochures, the state fair remains a marketplace for ideas to seed tomorrow.

Two squares on the anniversary quilt say it all. The first, which represents the fair’s first 10 years, has a tiny cabbage sprout with two hands joining together.

The panel for the last 10 years has a giant cabbage surrounded by a team of cabbage fairies. They represent all the hidden hands of volunteers and others who work hard to make this annual Alaska extravaganza, an event that draws about 300,000 people over the course of two weeks, a success.

We want to thank the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association for sharing their historic footage of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to the state fair in 1960, shot by Lowell Thomas, Jr., as well as some Steve McCutcheon film of the fair from the 1950s.

We also featured photographs from Stephen Cysewski taken in the 1970’s — part of his “Wandering in Alaska” collection.


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