The cancellation of Farmer’s Day in China Grove made me think even more about the fun, family-friendly event in Rowan County that has been happening for many years. I decided that I’d like to learn more about the history of the event so I called Patti Price Love, an event planner with the Town of China Grove to garnish some information from her.
After talking with Patti and Town Manager, Ken Deal, it was obvious that I needed to seek out those that ran things early on. Three names kept coming up – Barbara Doby, Judy Haire, and Janice Jenkins. These ladies had chaired Farmer’s Day for many years. I was able to get up with two of these ladies and they both had a lot to share.
Fun fact here is that Janice and I go back a long time when I was teaching classes at the South Rowan YMCA. When her name came up, I was thinking “my Janice Jenkins?” So, I got in touch with Janice and she was surprised I didn’t know about her years of chairing! Janice had a plethora of information to share.
She was the chair for Farmer’s Day for 18 years and she began in 1989. Barbara Doby was the original chair for the first seven years.
The first Farmer’s Day was originally in 1903 and 79 years later they had the second one in 1982 with around 5,000 in attendance compared to the crowd size of 40,000 by 1989. The crowds still have remained large over the years. The very first Farmer’s Day was held on the fourth Saturday in July. After that year, they changed it to the date everyone knows now which is the third Saturday of every July. The date was chosen because “at the time we had Cannon Mill workers coming back from being off the week of July 4. This gave the workers time to work two weeks and get a pay check so they could come and enjoy,” Janice shared.
In 1989, there was definitely a need for more than one stage. Janice got busy with it and had a main stage in front of Captain’s Galley (which always closed for Farmer’s Day), a children’s stage for storytelling and puppets, and then the Hanna Park Stage had local performances. The only stage now is found in Hanna Park.
For many years, Janice and her committee members marked the streets with tape for where the booths would go. It was very time consuming, but eventually the state came in and placed spikes in the road to help assist with knowing where booths would go and that was a huge help. The streets have been paved since then, but the spikes are still there! Take a close look next time you drive through Downtown China Grove.
Originally the booths were on the sidewalks and Janice got the booths moved into the streets which allowed for more booths and easier movement for those attending. The actual Farmer’s Market moved from being on the street over to the Roller Mill parking lot where they still are to this day. Farmer’s do not have to pay a fee to participate in Farmer’s Day.
The cost of the booths has changed a lot over the years as well. The first year in 1982 the booth charge was $1.00, in 1983 booths were $2.00, in 1989 the booths went up to $40.00, then to $85.00, and then to today $125.00 for vendors, $85 for crafts, and $30.00 for civic groups.
For years they have always had a Little Mr. & Miss Farmer contest. Parents bring their children dressed in farming apparel with the hopes of them grabbing those beloved titles. Originally, the Farmer’s Day committee would ask the Watermelon Queen from Murfreesboro, North Carolina to come and judge the competition! I know I’d personally have a hard time picking a winner with such cute participants!
We all know that July can be one of the hottest months of the summer or at least feel like it! Janice said they’ve kept up with temperatures over the years for Farmer’s Day. One of the hottest days recorded was in 1995 and it was 107 degrees Fahrenheit! Now that will melt your ice cream! The most interesting temperature though was the coolest day and that was 84 degrees Fahrenheit in 1984. Sounds like a perfect temp to me!
Giving Back to the Community
One of the many things Janice mentioned to me was how the money that was raised went back into the town. According to records, the very first year in 1982 the Farmer’s Day Committee purchased a window air conditioner for the China Grove Library. In 1983, they purchased the brick “Welcome to China Grove” signs at the town entrances and 25 chairs for the community building. Over the years, they also purchased a “School of Excellence” two-sided sign for China Grove Elementary School and a new sign for the China Grove Community Building along with many other projects in the town.
This wasn’t a one-person job by any means and Janice will be the first to tell you that. She told me there were 40 committee members in 1989 and each committee person had their own committee which could mean at least 100 people all working towards the goal of having a fantastic Farmer’s Day.
There is also the help of the town maintenance employees that help with set up. Janice recalled one year her husband and David Ketner (who worked for the town at the time), better known as Chop, climbed city light poles to hook up extension cords for vendors that wanted electricity. Vendors paid $10.00 extra if they wanted or needed power. She even had her kids at a flower shop blowing up balloons for the decorations. I, myself, even over the years have helped out by sending community service workers to help out on this event. It was an all-day process from sunup to sundown and then into the night with the street dance, bands, and lastly the fireworks. Janice stated, “it takes a village to have Farmer’s Day and I couldn’t have done it without everyone’s help.”
One of Janice’s greatest traits is organization. Any of us who have organized an event, even if it’s just a dinner party or a birthday party, know that organization is key. I asked her what was something she remembered about all her hard work to make this event go off and she said “the most meaningful part would be the people afterwards that would thank me and just how the vendors would compliment our organization. It really meant a lot to me!” She also added “I know the decision to not have Farmer’s Day this year was a hard one. I think about all the people like the FFA that had fundraisers and the YMCA car raffle…it just had to be a hard decision.”
I spoke to Judy Haire who knows just about all there is to know about the Town of China Grove…a community historian if you will. She sent me a picture of a dunking booth that was made by several people for the special day. She also told me that “probably everything I can tell you Janice has already told you” and she also said “Janice kept a scrap book of each year!” Judy even shared with me a picture of the t-shirts sold in 1982.
Present Day Farmer’s Day
So now back to the present Farmer’s Day and my great conversation with Patti Price Love with the Town of China Grove. I immediately picked up on what a great team they have there in the office. Teamwork makes everything better and that’s so important while planning an event the size of Farmer’s Day.
Patti agreed with me that its always hot during Farmer’s Day, but then she said “it’s hot for the farmers out working in the fields too so we can’t complain.” As the granddaughter of a farmer, I can totally relate because I spent most of my early summers up to 13 years of age working on my grandparent’s farm each summer and it was always hot.
We chatted about how Farmer’s Day has evolved over the years and how the town plans to still have some Farmer’s Day events this year virtually. Some of the things you can look for is story time with a farmer, tractor videos, farming crafts, things growing in the garden, and recipes for everyone to enjoy! Stay in touch with them on their Facebook page!
Patti stressed how important their sponsors are to them and she said both the sponsors and the bands have agreed to come back next year for the 2021 year!
The vendors they normally have are people like Aunt Jewell’s Homemade Lye Soap, James River Equipment provides tractors and they like to do special things for kids. One year they did a Junior Farmer Passports where the kids have to have their passports initialed as they find certain things. When they have all the areas initialed, they turn them in to be included in a prize drawing. There are also crafts being sold like carved watermelons, wood crafts, and all types of jewelry! I’m sure you will not be disappointed with the variety of vendors when Farmer’s Day returns next year. One of the best things that has been added is the addition of the air-conditioned trolley that brings in guests from parking lots! Also, while in Hanna Park, you will find a large tent with fans, tables, and chairs so people can sit and eat.
I ended my conversation that day speaking with the Town of China Grove Manager, Ken Deal. I’ve known Ken for a very long time, so I was excited to speak with him. I knew the decision to cancel Farmer’s Day this year had to have been difficult. Ken said, “Farmer’s Day is one of the most celebrated events…it’s like a family reunion.” He added, “everyone on the Town Board felt regretful and emotional because nobody wanted to cancel this. We are disappointed which is why we waited so long to call it off.” He ended by saying that “2021 Farmer’s Day will be bigger and better than ever before!” I have to agree that it most definitely will be and I can’t wait to attend it myself!