Inside the N.C. State Fair's horticulture exhibit, the mammoth pumpkins, giant watermelons and baskets of other picture perfect fruits and veggies are hard to resist. But they sit behind a wooden fence, out of arms reach to visitors who come to marvel at the best of North Carolina produce.
April Blazich, who runs the horticulture exhibit for the fair each year, knows the struggle, especially for families with kids in tow. She's a mom of two grown kids, who once were like the antsy youngsters she's seeing this week.
So, four years ago, Blazich created the Vegetable Petting Zoo, which sits at the entrance to the Exposition Building right near the giant pumpkins. The area offers a place for kids to touch, pet and play with produce of all shapes and sizes. This year, there are two large pumpkins and watermelons, eggplant, cabbage and apples, plus more unusual produce such as a calabash squash, black walnuts and Chinese okra.
"Everybody sees the stuff, but you have this irresistible need to feel it and touch it," she said.
Blazich, who first started exhibiting at the fair in 1978 and took over the job of running the horticulture exhibit in the mid-1990s, said she encourages cuddling melons and playing with the pumpkins at the petting zoo. Everything is wiped down with Clorox wipes.
"They gravitate to this immediately," she said. "It's just fun."
But it's also an opportunity to teach folks about different kinds of produce. Kids can touch and feel vegetables or fruits that they don't normally eat at home. And they can learn a little something about the different varieties of pumpkins. For instance, if you go this week, be sure to knock on the two pumpkin on display and note the difference. One pumpkin has a thicker wall than the other.
The petting zoo has a cut out board with a farmer and pig for photo opportunities. This is a fun and free (with fair admission) stop at the fair.
If you go, be sure to check the Kids Corral nearby. Kids competed for prizes by decorating pumpkins, apples and sweet potatoes. My kids and their friends loved checking out all of the creative projects when we were there last week.