Stop By The Farm
NC’s Farm Fresh Festivals
For as long as people have lived in North Carolina, they’ve been harvesting its fertile soil to grow much of their sustenance. Today, we have big cities, fast food, and giant grocery stores, but many areas are still tied to the land and the crops that grow on it. Several communities in NC celebrate their local crops with annual festivals, which usually feature music, family fun, and a cornucopia of dishes dedicated to the honored produce. Here’s a look at some of North Carolina’s favorite annual crop-based festivals, listed in seasonal order. But beware – this list is guaranteed to make you hungry.
Apples aren’t just a crop in the NC Mountains – they’re part of the heritage. Henderson County grows 65 percent of the state’s apple production each year, and if all the apples grown here were set next to each other, they would reach to Tokyo and back. For more than 60 years, the community celebrates its bounty with four days of events at the NC Apple Festival in downtown Hendersonville (south of Asheville), culminating with the King Apple Parade on Labor Day.
It just quite isn’t fall without pumpkins, and the little NC town of Spring Hope, just west of Rocky Mount has been home to the National Pumpkin Festival every October for more than 30 years. Included in this celebration are a pumpkin weigh-off, recipe and decorating contests, and the crowning of both the Pumpkin Queen and Little Miss Pumpkin.
NC is the number one state in the country for the production of sweet potatoes, and the North Carolina Sweet Potato Festival celebrates that fact every fall in the town of Snow Hill, about 60 miles southeast of Raleigh. The festival includes a pageant, rides, and free entertainment, but the big attraction, of course, is the flavor of the fresh Sweet Potato Pie.
Signs Of Spring
You’ve probably seen Mt. Olive pickles in the grocery store, and the company has grown from modest beginnings in 1926 to the largest independent pickle company in the US. The company’s namesake town, just south of Goldsboro, celebrates its pickled success at the North Carolina Pickle Festival every spring, which even includes “Tour De Pickle” recreational bike rides through the local countryside. If you miss the festival, you can come to Mount Olive on New Year’s Eve and watch the “pickle drop”.
North Carolina’s oldest continuing agricultural festival is the NC Strawberry Festival, which has been held each spring in Chadbourn (54 miles west of Wilmington) for more than 75 years. The festival celebrates the bright red fruit that put this little town on the map back in 1895, when a developer turned timberlands into farms that became known as “The Sunny South Colony”.
The northeastern coastal plain of NC is perfect for potatoes - fertile soils, mild temperatures and ample rainfall provide an ideal situation to grow the crop. To celebrate this fact, the North Carolina Potato Association puts on the Potato Festival each May in downtown Elizabeth City, where it has its headquarters. Included in the festival are a street dance and powerboat races.
A Taste Of Summer
The first cultivated blueberry production in the state occurred in Pender County in the 1930s, and each June, historic downtown Burgaw (20 miles north of Wilmington on I-40) celebrates the historical, economic, and cultural significance of the crop with the North Carolina Blueberry Festival. A five-mile bike ride and non-stop entertainment are features of this festival, but there are plenty of blueberry baked goods to sample as well.
The taste of a fresh peach is a sure sign of summer, and in Candor (between Asheboro and Rockingham), everything gets peachy on the third Saturday in July for the North Carolina Peach Festival. Fresh peaches, peach ice cream, peach pie and peach cobbler are the cornerstones of this festival, which also includes a peach parade.
The roots of the North Carolina Watermelon Festival go back to the 1970s, when A.J. Worley and Monroe Enzor, Sr. decided to grow watermelons as a hobby. The two friends held a contest each year to see who could grow the biggest melon, and eventually, the annual weigh-off became a must-see event for the townspeople of Fair Bluff (south of Lumberton). Suddenly, the festival was born, and has since grown into an event that draws people from all over the Southeast. Today, there’s a beauty pageant and a seed-spitting contest at the annual July event, but the highlight is still the Watermelon Contest weigh-off.
added: May 21, 2009
updated: September 19, 2010