County fair's focus is still local food

Sep. 23, 2013 @ 11:01 AM

The Caldwell County Agricultural Fair started in 1946 when a group of county farmers joined together to celebrate their harvest but has grown into one of the largest annual events in the county, drawing some of the largest crowds.

The fair has not lost its connection to those first farmers, though. This year’s theme, “Reap What You Sow, Eat What You Grow,” focuses on values, "being good, honest, caring people, especially during difficult socioeconomic times, and preserving a lifestyle that is prominent in many counties of Western North Carolina,” president Janice Moses wrote in this year’s fair program.

“When people visit a county fair, they’re participating in a 200-year-old tradition,” said Darlene Berry, an agent with the Caldwell County Extension Office. Berry called county agriculture fairs “part of the Americana landscape,” saying that she wants people to also think of the fair as a nostalgic event.

Along with the amusement rides and carnival food, this year’s fair will feature the usual agriculture-based events, showcasing plants, livestock and food from the county, aimed at engaging the community with the agriculture that supports it.

But remembering the past doesn’t mean this year’s fair will be without bigger and better features.

This year the fair will have musical performances every night, Moses said.

There also are about 20 new rides for both adults and children, fairgrounds manager Bob Greene said.

Organizers have been planning for the fair since this time last year, Greene said. The fair is expected to draw 5,000-7,000 people over the course of its five-day run. The fair drew 5,600 last year during a rainy week.

This year, Berry is focusing on the history of 4-H, after she found a number of old, unlabeled photos of Caldwell County 4-H from the '60s and '70s. She is inviting 4-H alumni and community members to the fair to help identify the 4-H members in the photos and help connect people to the history of 4-H and the county.

Berry, whose grandparents were farmers, grew up in Connecticut attending the Brooklyn Fair in Brooklyn County, Conn., which was started in 1809 and is considered one of the oldest continuously running fairs in the country.

Berry has attended the Caldwell Agricultural Fair a number of times, entering the exhibits in photography and food preservation, winning blue ribbons in each.

“It’s really a yearlong process because, for our kids, anything they create, make or grow for the last year, they can bring and enter,” Berry said.

The Caldwell County Agricultural Fair runs 5–11 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1–11 p.m. Saturday at the Caldwell County Fairgrounds, 2461 Fairgrounds Drive, off U.S. 321 and Southwest Boulevard in Lenoir. Daily highlights include corn-hole contests, agricultural shows and exhibits, pie-eating contests and nightly music. For more information, call the fairgrounds at 828-728-7050.