CHINA GROVE — Little Cooper Miller was this year’s winner of the Little Mr. Farmer contest, an honor bestowed upon his father, Michael Miller, 30 years ago at the China Grove Farmers Day event. Cooper, 16 months, won in the infant through 2-year-old division. Cooper Miller wore overalls, boots, a straw hat and a special red handkerchief.
The handkerchief belonged to his father, who wore the red cloth when he won at 18 months old.
“It’s always been a family thing. Every year we go to Farmers Day,” Michael Miller said.
Back in the days when the Miller family owned the Roller Mill, it was the spot where generations of Millers gathered at the end of Farmers Days.
“We’d always go in the mill and play around,” Michael said.
Three generations of Miller men, including grandfather, David, all sat at a table under a tent Saturday, after the contest.
“Homemade ice cream was always a good memory. South Rowan FFA used to make homemade ice cream,” Michael said.
Michael Miller’s wife, Kristi, also attended Farmers Day as a child. She danced with Center Stage Dance Company and is now a teacher there.
“It’s an opportunity to see some people. Once a year you see them here,” David said.
He saw a classmate he hadn’t seen in 40 years at this year’s Farmers Day.
The temperature was in the mid-80s, but with humidity, the warm pavement felt closer to the mid-90s. There were a few places where attendees could duck under tents, or trees, or into buildings like town hall where there was a silent auction and St. Mark’s Lutheran Church for an organ concert.
This year was the first time in a long time that Farmers Day featured a Cruise-In with vintage cars, tractors and other vehicles. Pam and Barry Kemp drove their 1927 Model T Ford. The couple, who live in Richfield, bought the car at an auto fair. The original owner, a Florida man, built the car for his wife, Rose, in 1989. The car, nicknamed the T Rose, features little roses etched on the glass and a rose petal upholstered inside the door.
“We take it to all the shows,” Pam said.
Her husband preaches at a China Grove church and the two had never had the opportunity to participate in the car show. They bought the car just more than a year ago. The car doesn’t just sit at the couple’s home and look pretty, Pam said, they drive it at least once a week or when Barry gets the urge to “go for a drive.”
Barry has his hobbies and Pam is a self-professed city girl, who has different preferred hobbies, but the car shows are something the couple can do together.
Barry owned a 1936 Chevy that he sold and bought the Model T. He’s worked with cars all of this life. He sponsored Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s first car.
Just a block away, the doors to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church were open to visitors who wanted to escape the heat. Visitors also wanted to listen to the organ concert. The church held the free concert during Farmers Day, showcasing its new Fisk Opus 143 pipe organ, named Grace, and its newly renovated sanctuary.
Church organist Libby Staton played three 30-minute sets of hymns and took requests from the audience.
The church is looking to form relationships and connect with the community, said the Rev. Keith Copeland, the church’s transitional pastor.
There were teams of members who passed out flyers to invite people to the mini-concert, others who welcomed guests with cold bottles of water and a third team that conducted brief surveys following the concerts.
“We want them to have a relationship, but also make a relationship,” Copeland said.
It was a blessing, he said, to hear everyone joining in to sing hymns.
“All of these folks are encountering people and that’s what the church should be about,” Copeland said.
Cadence Helms, 6, had much of her fun at the event early in the day. Cadence arrived at the event early to help father, Reese, who is a China Grove Police Officer, and the young girl enjoyed the dunk tank.
“The dunk tank is the best,” she said after dunking her grandmother, China Grove Police Officer Nena Stillwell.
For $1, participants received three balls to dunk Stillwell, other officers, South Rowan High students and other volunteers.
Vera Avery of Cleveland attended the event for the first time with nephews and a great-nephew. She brought the children to the event as a way to learn about the community and something fun to do.
“I try to do activities with the boys once a month. We try to do something that’s cultural or original. It also gets us outside,” Avery said.
She said often children spend time indoors playing video games and the family’s outings get them outside. Often the boys plan the outing or plan where they’ll eat. They’ve gone to Lake Norman State Park and spent the day fishing. Avery loves the event because it’s family-friendly and teaches them about their county.
“It exposes them to things they might not really get to see on an everyday basis,” she said.
Kendra Owens, who co-owns Embellish Boutique with her mother, Lisa Deal, attended for the first time as a business owner. The shop opened in May in downtown China Grove. The store sells clothes, shoes, purses and accessories. The mother-daughter team pulled some merchandise from inside the store and set up a display table on the sidewalk.
Participating in the event this year was a family affair with Kendra’s husband, Jason, adopted family Caleb Goodman and Barrett Anderson, all helping to sell items and set up for the event.
The event featured tent after tent of local and regional vendors, who sold everything from jewelry to dip to food. There were even two beauty queens — Miss Rowan County Katie Archer and Hannah Wellborn-Lewis, Miss Rowan County’s Outstanding Teen. The young women were raising money for scholarships. They offered princess experiences for young girls by painting nails and giving them a crown of their own.
Archer, 19, said it was nice to get out and meet the citizens of Rowan County.
Wellborn-Lewis, 15, said it was nice to be able to put smiles on the faces of young children. It was the first time attending the event for both Wellborn-Lewis and Archer.
Loretta and Rick Brady, owners of Touch of Heaven Butterfly Farm, gave festival-goers a unique opportunity to interact with butterflies up close. The Asheboro couple along with daughter, Amber, had an enclosed tent filled with Monarch, Painted Lady and Swallowtail butterflies. The family began the business about five years ago when Loretta met another butterfly farmer and wanted to try her hand at it. Those interested were given a cotton round sprayed with Gatorade. “The butterflies are attracted to the Gatorade; it’s like nectar,” Amber said.
The couple participate in other festivals throughout the region and have taught children about butterflies at Victory Junction, Rick said.
The Roller Mill Museum was the site of the Best Tomato Contest and members of the Historical Society of South Rowan gave tours of the museum. The entrants for the tomato contest were judged on meatiness, taste, appearance and core. Chase Reynolds, co-owner of Two Pigs Farm in Cleveland, was one of the judges. Reynolds runs an organic farm with his sister, Yorke.
The winners of the tomato contest were:
• Youth, Morgan Miller, first place
• Adult, Judy Miller, first place
• Adult, Bruce Miller, second place
• Adult, Ed Renninger, third place