Dole companies apparently drop sponsorship of Farmers Day in China Grove
By Jessie Burchette
CHINA GROVE ó Several area businesses and supporters of Farmers Day are stepping up to fill the money gap left by the withdrawal of Dole Foods/Castle & Cooke.
Lee Withers, chairman of the Farmers Day committee, said recently he is disappointed in the apparent decision of the David Murdock-owned companies to drop sponsorship of the daylong festival after one very successful year.
Last year, the Murdock companies took center stage at the festival, publicizing the N.C. Research Campus project in Kannapolis and promoting Dole Foods’ interest in expanding the production of fruit and vegetables in the region.
Farmers Day greatly expanded the farmers market, taking up a large section of Main Street.
A Dole vice president chatted with hundreds of people attending the festival, and Dole gave away 20,000-plus bananas.
“It was a huge hit,” said Withers, adding that the Farmers Day committee and everyone was excited that they (the Murdock companies) were committed to the festival. “We believed there was a continuing partnership.”
Over the past few months as the festival organization moved forward, Withers said his efforts to contact key officials of the companies have been unsuccessful. Repeated phone calls were not returned.
Withers said he has never received any official word from Castle & Cooke or Dole that they have dropped their sponsorship.
The closest thing that he has received to official notification came when a longtime employee of Murdock’s companies stopped in at Dixie’s, a coffee shop on Main Street. Withers said the employee expressed her regret that they wouldn’t be able to do anything this year.
“Hopefully they will come around,” said Withers, adding that Farmers Day will go forward with its 27th edition on July 19.
A corporate sponsorship for the festival costs $5,000.
Efforts by the Post to contact local Castle & Cooke officials were unsuccessful.
Withers and the committee have been working to find others to make up the difference.
“We’ll do the same thing, keep it going. We’ll suck it up and keep on going,” said Withers.
As word has spread around town about the dropped sponsorship, others have come forward.
Many of the local merchants are putting in more dollars.
Also, developers of a new project on U.S. 29 near the Stag ‘N Doe have stepped up. The companies include Insite N.C., Earthworks and Central Place Developers. Among those involved in the companies are Gary Knox, a Cornelius developer, Dr. Mike Morton of Kannapolis, the former NFL player; and Dana Morton of the Stag ‘N Doe.
Withers said the companies have agreed to fill the dollar gap created by the withdrawal of the Murdock companies.
Rowan Regional Medical Center and the Novant health organization will be sponsors.
The door is still open for a corporate sponsor.