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China Grove Farmers Day: Newcomers, old-timers join in celebration

CHINA GROVE — On a stroll through the crowded streets of China Grove for Farmers Day, it was hard to miss the large pink fire truck parked outside the China Grove Fire Department.
The truck wasn’t anything like the antique slick red trucks from the previous Farmers Day events. But it was a truck promoting a special mission.
The truck and an accompanying police cruiser were part of Triad Pink Heals, an organization that supports women with cancer and their families.
The volunteers sell T-shirts and other Pink Heals memorabilia to raise money that benefits those with cancer in the towns in which the group tour.
Tonya Wilkins, the organization’s secretary, stood under a tent in front of the fire department, chatting with a few people and handing a black Sharpie to others. Thousands of signatures and messages of hope adorn the vehicles.
Wilkins, of Elkin, joined her husband, Dusty, a firefighter, and several other volunteers in speaking to passersby about the organization and invited those “warriors” enduring cancer, survivors and family of survivors to sign the truck.
The truck, named after 9-year-old Sofie Zuluaga, a cancer survivor, and patrol cruiser, named after Whitney Ladd, a 20-something breast cancer survivor, were donated. It will be 12 years ago in September that Wilkins survived stage 4 colon cancer. She was misdiagnosed at 28 with irritable bowel syndrome. She underwent six months of chemotherapy and surgery. She travels with her husband to tell people more about the organization, which focuses on the women and men who have cancer and not in supporting any particular cause.
“We’re here to show them compassion and love,” she said.
It’s the first time the group set up a booth at Farmers Day.
The Alexander-Cockerl family has been a staple at the festival for the past four years. The family’s Mobile Concessions business has also taken part in other local events, including the N.C. Transportation Museum’s Day Out With Thomas. The family has been working together over 20 years to make barbecue chicken, ribs, funnel cakes, hot dogs and hamburgers to name a few items.
“We started doing an event in Spencer for the holiday parade,” said Robert Cockerl.
“It’s always been family — family recipes,” he said of the menu, which also includes dipped chicken with a vinegary, barbecue sauce.
This year was the first time as a vendor for Lisa Agner, who with her family, set up a 16-foot tall tea stand near the main stage across from China Grove Family House restaurant. They are franchise owners of Bayou Billy Sweet Dixie Tea of the Carolinas. She hopes to attend other local and regional events.
Russell Foster’s little minions had lots of people stopping by his tent to look at the creations he made out of Freon tanks based on the yellow henchmen featured in the “Despicable Me” films.
The Salisbury welder began creating pieces of art after his then 8-year-old daughter asked for a windmill. The final creation wasn’t a windmill, but the two did create a “running man.” Flash forward 11 years and Foster still creates sculptures for his Rust to Relics business out of items most people would toss.
Some of the vendors/booths weren’t selling things, just providing information, like the folks at Charity Baptist Church.
Justin Thompson, student pastor at the Kannapolis church, said it was the first time the church participated in the festival.
“We wanted to be more active in our community,” he said.
The church’s senior pastor, Marty Payton, lives in China Grove. The church has been around for more than 20 years.
Thompson said the church really has a heart for young people.
“We are out here trying to be a blessing and introduce people to our church,” he said.
There were a number of other local churches that also had tables where members gave out free water and other informational pamphlets.
This year was the second year Nye and Kevin Hartwick attended the festival, which boasts attendance in the thousands.
The rain didn’t deter the family who just moved from Charlotte to China Grove a couple of years ago.
“We like the small town vibe and looking at the sights,” Nye said.
The couple took their children to the petting zoo and to see the antique tractors.
The two said they moved to China Grove for this very type of atmosphere.
Jennifer Scott of Mooresville used the event as a way to spend time with grandson, Cayson Burdette, 4. The tyke even won a basketball as a prize at one of the booths. “It’s a nice time for family and friends and something to do for the kids,” Scott said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.

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