Farmers Day brings folks back to their roots

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Hugh Fisher
CHINA GROVE ó You could hear it in the ringing music of the “Melody Bells” of First Baptist Church of China Grove, as the men and women played hymns on the steps of the historic Roller Mill Museum.
You could hear it in the thump and swish of antique motors churning ice cream near rows of gleaming vintage tractors.
And you could hear it in the laughter of kids petting chickens, sheep and horses in a makeshift barnyard ó some of them seeing those animals for the first time in their lives.
Those and many others were the sounds of Farmer’s Day in China Grove on Saturday, an event that this year more than ever was aimed at getting back to the community’s roots.”It’s a ton of joy to be out here today,” said Lee Withers, China Grove town councilman and chairman of the Farmer’s Day committee.
“We do this to give back to our community. And it’s our biggest and best economic development tool,” Withers said.
The town’s population of 4,200 swelled by thousands as patrons enjoyed music, refreshments and entertainment throughout the day.
Withers said he hopes some of those people move to China Grove to live or work.
But another purpose of Farmer’s Day as Withers sees it is to help people get back to their agricultural roots.
That’s why local collectors’ antique tractors got pride of place along Main Street instead of being tucked away on a side street.
“It’s nice to see because it’s the history of this area,” said Scott McIntosh of the Stumpton Tractor Club.
“These towns are what they are now because of this type of farm equipment.”
Yet in the line of historic equipment was one departure: a bright pink Farmall that stood out among the oranges and greens of the other tractors.
Not far off, kids and the young-at-heart got a slice of farm life at the “petting barn” staffed by members of the Future Farmers of America from J.C. Carson High School.
Caleb Goodman, rising senior at Carson High, had the idea for the petting zoo last year. This year’s incarnation featured horses, sheep, goats, chickens and cows.
“They get to see actual farm animals they might never get to see anywhere else,” Goodman said.
The petting barn was free, though kids could buy food for the animals for a small donation.
“I like the horse,” said Montgomery Smith, age 8. “I just like him ’cause my Paw Paw has one.”
Her mother, Brandy Smith, held younger brother Denver, age 2, near the chicken coop.
“Be careful,” she said as he reached a hand out. “They’ll bite you, bubba.”
Down the road was another taste ó literally ó of local farm life.
A long tent and roaring fans helped keep shoppers cool at Patterson Farms’ makeshift farmer’s market, where locally-grown tomatoes, peaches, corn and melons sat alongside rows of handmade pickles and preserves.
“It’s been fun,” said manager Spring Miller during a short break from ringing up customers. She said the booth had been a top draw.
Miller said recent concerns about the safety of mass-market produce hadn’t affected business.
“Actually, I think it’s kind of improved business for us,” Miller said. “People know our produce is fresh and local, and that we only sell the best.”
Local crafts people and their wares on display throughout downtown China Grove contributed to the down-home atmosphere.
“I’ve been doing this for twenty-some years at least,” said Brenda Sue Lowder, owner of a woodworking and laser-engraving business. She usually sells her wooden plaques and decorations at the local flea market.
Farmer’s Day gives her a chance to see loyal customers and make new friends at the same time.
“People see my stuff here and head out to the flea market as well,” Lowder said.
As a local woodworker, her creations get a good response from visitors. Her best seller: a wooden plaque with a poem about mothers that’s a top seller around Mother’s Day.
“It’s a good crowd, and a very friendly crowd. We run into a lot of people we know.”
As curiosity-seekers strolled through tents to buy food and gifts, music boomed from tents up and down Main Street.
The Melody Bells of First Baptist Church of China Grove ó about 20 musicians in all ó played well-known hymns at the Roller Mill, a counterpoint to the rock and roll music barely audible down the street.
“I just hope the songs uplift their spirits,” First Baptist pastor the Rev. Steve Wilson said, “and remind them that our country was founded on God.”
Not far away, other groups representing American freedoms ó specifically, the right to vote ó vied for attention.Rowan County Republicans and Democrats manned tents a respectable distance apart, with area candidates making their best pitches for votes and distributing plenty of free stickers, signs and flyers.But even there, among those who might disagree on politics, there was an atmosphere of friendliness.
Lee Withers said that’s the main reason he loves Farmer’s Day.
“The smiles on people’s faces are the best part,” he said. “We just want everybody to enjoy themselves.”