Farm City Day isn’t a fraction as big as the Apple Festival. What’s more, organizers like Steve Pettis stress that the day is all about education. And yet, thanks to a strong nostalgia factor for grownups and a focus on young children beyond just a “kids’ corner,” it remains one of Henderson County’s most beloved annual events.
“There are many studies out there that show kids don’t know where their food comes from,” says Pettis. “There are a high percentage of kids who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows, or who don’t know hamburgers come from cows. This festival focuses on increasing agricultural awareness, especially among young people.”
Pettis, the Henderson County extension agent with NC Cooperative Extension, has been involved with Farm City Day for three years. The event, which began in 1955 and has been held at Jackson Park since 1986, routinely draws upwards of 10,000 people over the course of a six-hour day.
Much of the family fun hasn’t changed much since the last century, and that’s the point: There are sack races and corn shucking, as well as live music and a petting zoo that seems to grow larger every year. “In 2018, we even had a camel, and pony rides. It’s going to be top-notch this year, too,” Pettis says.
Besides the classic favorites, a host of new activities will be hosted in 2019, including a cross-species costume contest. The llama show now has a dress-up factor for both animals and their humans. “Someone the other day asked if the kids or the animals were dressing up — I said, ‘I think both,’” Pettis confirms.
Another fresh wrinkle is the inclusion of the French Broad River Valley Music Association. The group, which is dedicated to preserving timeless Appalachian music, hosts an open jam at Sanctuary Brewery in Hendersonville every Wednesday. “They’ll be here in some form or fashion, performing during the day,” Pettis says.
Also debuting at this year’s event is the 4-H fashion show: Kids who’ve learned to sew in Henderson County’s 4-H organization will be showing off clothes they’ve created themselves. “It’s a great organization, and it teaches kids a lot of useful skills,” Pettis says.
One of the event’s most anticipated moments, year in and year out, is the “Farmer of the Year” announcement. In 2018, the honor was bestowed upon Fred Pittillo, founder of Turf Mountain Sod in Hendersonville. The 2019 recipient has been selected, Pettis says, but that information won’t be revealed until the big day.
When it comes to food, Flat Rock Village Bakery, the Prime Time Eats food truck, and other local vendors will be dishing out the goods. After devouring a tasty entree, attendees can then grab a raspberry dessert — and other raspberry goodies — from local farmer Stacy Fields. “She makes a lot of neat stuff, and she’ll prepare them on site,” Pettis says.
Being, at its core, a celebration of farmers, Farm City Day earns praise from many local agricultural aficionados. Jason Davis, owner of North River Farms in Mills River, in operation 20 years, has attended Farm City for many years running.
“We’ve supported Farm City Day [a long time],” he says. “It’s a day where Henderson County can showcase its strengths and diversity in agriculture, and bring the community together for a time of education, advocacy, and preservation.”
Decades ago, extension services across North Carolina were tasked with hosting farm city days. Few have survived to the present, however, perhaps because they were overtaken by the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh and the N.C. Mountain State Fair in Fletcher. “We’re one of the few freestanding agricultural fairs left in the state,” Pettis notes.
He believes it’s important for Henderson County — and the state at large — to continue offering an event this unique. State and regional fairs are meaningful in their own right, Pettis concedes, but having a chance to celebrate agriculture at a hyper-local level provides a sense of intimacy that bigger events simply can’t offer. It unites farmers and members of the public, all living in the same area — urban, suburban, and rural — and facilitates a sense of empathy and understanding.
“We all live in the same community, so we ought to be tolerant of each other,” Pettis says. “If you see a tractor going down the road, remember that fella or lady is producing food for you.”
Farm City Day happens Saturday, Oct. 5, 10am-4pm, at Jackson Park (708 Glover St. in Hendersonville). Free. For more information, call 828-697-4900 or see “Farm City Day, Hendersonville” on Facebook.