It’s still popular to skew notions of “urban” and “rural” as disjointed opposites: farmers work the fields; white-collars infiltrate the skyscrapers. That’s been the prevailing notion since the 19th century, when America sought to industrialize at a breakneck pace. Even in low-key Hendersonville, where the gold-domed Historic County Courthouse reigns instead of corporate towers, this concept is mainstream. But in our haste to assign binaries — black and white, old and young, farm and city — we often disregard the liminal space existing between the two.
For 61 years, Farm City Day has called attention to that middle ground. The event underlines economic mutualism and cultural likeness, or more plainly, it “better acquaints city people with farm life,” says longtime agriculturist Theron Maybin.
An eighth-generation farmer, Theron can’t remember a time when he wasn’t cultivating the land running alongside the Green River. At age five, he began milking family cows and preserving veggies, and at 15, he drove cattle from the southeastern reaches of the county to Main Street for Farm City Day.
In ’76, the production had only recently moved from the Roses Discount Store parking lot (now Fresh Market) to downtown, says event coordinator Karen Saine of Henderson County Parks & Recreation. Roosters cawed on the back of pickup trucks and ponies shifted in stopgap corrals. Like today, quilters showed off their traditional patterns — including the well-known “Drunkard’s Path” — and woodworkers their rough-sawn pine.
However, some customs would be phased out in the ensuing years — namely the greased-pig chase. Theron’s sister-in-law, Terry Maybin, recalls the tradition of dredging good-sized squealers — 20 to 50 pounds — in Vaseline and homemade lard. Once the hogs were nice and slick, they’d be let loose, as would crowds of children, all set on catching the slippery, prized animal. “None were injured,” Terry promises, referring to both kids and swine. But in every way, the fun was a bit too pungent for modern sensibilities.
The event moved to Jackson Park (a more shaded and obliging location, notes Theron), and since then not much has changed, at least on the surface. Like she has since her first year attending, Terry dons a handmade bonnet and apron, filling her pockets with “toys and whatnot.” She rides in a haywagon and oversees old-fashioned games — the egg toss, the sack race, the corn-shucking contest. Potters labor over their wheels and crafters their hand tools, all in the name of preserving “old ways.”
Farm City Day bridges the past with the present, the urban with the rural. And things do change — witness the strong rise of agritourism and small-scale farming among younger growers in the region. Farm and city folk still “depend on one another,” notes Saine.
But for Theron, a disabled Vietnam veteran, it’s more personal. The event gestures to the agricultural spirit that will continue to define him, regardless of bounty. “I once had crops, pigs, chickens, and cows,” he reminisces. “But I only dream about it now.”
Farm City Day happens Saturday, October 1, 10am-4pm at Jackson Park. For more information, contact Karen Saine at 828-697-4884.