Giant cabbages may take center stage at the Alaska State Fair, but the concert and entertainment lineup is equally as impressive. This 12-day festival at the end of summer remains a time-honored tradition and renowned showcase for Alaska's bounty, and place for Alaskans to gather at the end of a busy summer.
Lush flower gardens, record-setting giant vegetables, endless food and entertainment – the Alaska State Fair is for all ages. Nestled in the heart of the Chugach Mountains in the fertile Matanuska Valley, the Alaska State Fairgrounds are just an hour north of Anchorage in Palmer, Alaska. The 2015 fair dates will be August 27 through September 7 (Labor Day).
The year 2016 will mark the 80th anniversary of the Alaska State Fair. Its beginnings root in a farming colony established in the Matanuska and Susitna valleys with the intent of opening up Alaska, providing food to the military in case of war, and offer families on relief a new start. Two hundred and three families were selected from Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma, and they arrived in the Valley in May 1935.
Throughout the year of their arrival, the colonists constructed their homes, cleared fields and built a community. By July 1936, they were ready for a celebration. The Matanuska Valley Fair Association was formed and they decided to hold a four-day fair, Sept. 4 through Sept. 7. The first fair coincided with the opening of the Knik River Bridge, which linked the city of Anchorage and the Valley by road for the first time.
The giant cabbage contest tradition began in 1941 when Colonel Ohlson, manager of the Alaska Railroad, offered $25 for the largest cabbage. Max Sherrod of the Valley took the prize with a 23 pounder.
The fair now boasts more than 10,000 exhibits, but hasn’t changed that much since 1936. Visitors do enjoy a wider range of events, such as big name entertainers, but the heart of the Fair still centers on the things the original colonists started with – agriculture, lots of food, friends and family, and an old-fashioned good time.
Transportation from Anchorage to the fairgrounds is available through the Alaska Railroad and The Mat-Su Transit Company.