Alaska Life

The Alaska State Fair is over — so what happens to those giant vegetables?

Every year, show-stopping vegetables draw large crowds at the Alaska State Fair. From giant cauliflowers and pumpkins to the pristine gourds, they are some of the state’s most famous veggies.

So what happens to them after the fair ends?

This year, some of the bounty — close to 400 pounds — was donated to Mat-Su Senior Services in Palmer, helping feed nearly 1,200 seniors in the Mat-Su through daily home deliveries and congregate lunches at the Palmer Senior Center.

“That’s a budget-saver right there,” said Sarah Weideman, Mat-Su Senior Services’ development and communications coordinator.

On Wednesday, boxes of potatoes, kale, peas and cauliflower lined shelves in the walk-in freezer at the Palmer Senior Center kitchen.

[Photos: Best of September 2021]

Vegetables were made into both a vegetarian stew and a chicken and vegetable stew, as well as side salads, as employees and volunteers worked quickly to prepare the meals for the day’s lunch service.


In Portage, bears, too, enjoyed a salad of sorts, made from cabbage, rhubarb, leafy greens, zucchini and other gourds.

Roughly 800 to 1,000 pounds of produce from the Alaska State Fair was donated to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

[Fall harvest is the fruit of a Palmer apple grower’s curiosity]

On Sept. 10, the center’s three coastal brown bears –– Hugo, Patron and JB –– took turns munching on the giant vegetables during an annual event called Big Bears & Big Veggies.

Each year, visitors are invited to watch the bears devour the colossal greens, delivered in a tractor.

The remaining produce is then divvied up between the center’s omnivores and herbivores.

The bears are preparing for winter hibernation and are consuming about 20 to 30 pounds of food per day, said Nicole Geils with the center.

Do the bears hear the tractor and know they are going to get a whopping helping of veggies?

“I’d like to think so,” she said.

Patron, the 17-year-old female brown bear, eventually stopped eating and rolled around on the remaining scraps of veggies, drawing laughter from the dwindling crowd attending the event.

The remaining Alaska State Fair vegetables were offered to local farmers to feed livestock.

Anything that wasn’t taken was then composted, said Kathy Liska, crops superintendent at the State Fair.

Emily Mesner

Emily Mesner is a multimedia journalist for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously worked for the National Park Service at Denali National Park and Preserve and the Western Arctic National Parklands in Kotzebue, at the Cordova Times and at the Jackson Citizen Patriot in Jackson, Michigan.