Fairs Celebrate Farming Heritage

Rides, games and pageants galore, — but fairs are rooted in agriculture

By David Anderson Jr.
Published September 16, 2009

Thrill rides zoom overhead, trailing the screams of excited teenagers in their wake. Carnival games whirl and ding, tempting players to pay for one more round as the joyful shouts of children waft through the air alongside scents of kettle corn and cotton candy. The Lee Regional Fair offers enough distractions and pleasures to suit any taste, but for old-timers like L.D. Nipper, the fair is all about one thing — agriculture.

Nipper, 72, spent Tuesday evening managing a display of antique farm supplies that included tractors, hay balers, a diesel-powered saw mill from the ’30s, dried tobacco and corn shellers.

As he helped interested passersby feed ears of corn into the sheller, Nipper reminisced about how he used to pass weeks away shelling corn to feed chickens or grind into corn meal. Now the only time he spends shelling corn is during displays at the fair.

Nipper is one of about 40 members of the Central Carolina Antique Power & Equipment Club. Club president Randy Matthews says the fair gives him an important opportunity to show people how food was grown and processed a century ago, and what kind of work is involved in getting produce to the grocery store today.

“That’s one reason we’re here, because that’s what fairs are about,” Matthews said.

State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler was on hand to celebrate the opening of the Lee Regional Fair Tuesday afternoon. Troxler said a huge amount of adults and children in North Carolina have no idea where their food is grown, and regional fairs are an important way to bring agriculture to the forefront of people’s minds.

“Agriculture and agribusiness is a $70 billion-a-year business in our state and we tend to forget that,” Troxler said. “But the fair is a reminder that agriculture is what drives our communities.”

The fair isn’t just about showcasing the history of agriculture. Competitions sponsored by community organizations and businesses give young people an opportunity to hone their skills as the next generation of America’s farmers.

Carrie Womack is a teacher and the club advisor for Future Farmers of America at Southern Lee High School. She helped organize the broiler competition for more than 40 youth who wanted to try their hand at raising chickens.

Youth participating were each given three hatchlings earlier in the year — all females from the same batch of eggs-and tasked with raising them to maturity, trying to get their birds to be as healthy and large as possible.

“We raise them up, we bring them here and show them and just see how it goes from there,” said Tommy Dabolt, 15.

“They’re looking for the birds that have the most muscle,” said Dan Campeau, a poultry agent for the Cooperative Extension. “The birds that were not under a lot of stress, were fed correctly, watered correctly, they are the biggest birds here.”

The youth with the healthiest birds are given a cash prize and a chance to auction their hens to raise money for college.

Jonathan Pemberton was one of several teenagers to sign up for the tractor driving competition Tuesday. Drivers have to navigate an obstacle course and successfully back a trailer down a narrow path without bumping cones.

“I’ve driven a tractor once before and it was a little bigger,” Jonathan said. “I’ve never really backed up a trailer before, but it looks fun.”

Although Jonathan lives in the city limits, he has spent some time on his grandfather’s farm. He said learning how to run a simple farm is an important life skill that could aid him in the future.

“We’re getting into the age where there’s not a lot of farm land left, and if it came down to it, I want to know how to grow my own food,” Jonathan said.

Womack said students today recognize how important scientific research is to agriculture as farmers try to produce more with less resources. Connections are also made between the pharmaceutical industry, textile manufactures and agriculture. Having this broad understanding builds a stronger interest in agricultural careers among today’s students than Womack remembered seeing when she was a child.

“To me it’s stronger because the students are more aware of it now. You can do a lot more in (agriculture) than just farm,” Womack said. “There’s a whole lot more to it than just the production end, and the students are seeing it. The interest is there.”

Womack is confidant that future generations will make agriculture just as vital to the region’s economy and way of life as it has been for centuries.

“It’s gonna have to be,” she said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t realize.”


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Text and images copyright 2009 by The Sanford Herald/Paxton Media Group.
Used with permission.


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