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August 8, 2020

China Grove Farmers Day takes a village to put on

By Janet Ruffin

The cancellation of Farmers Day in China Grove made me think even more about the fun, family-friendly event in Rowan County that has been happening for many years.

I decided that I’d like to learn more about the history of the event. So I called Patti Price Love, an event planner with the town of China Grove to get some information from her.

After talking with Patti and Town Manager Ken Deal, it was obvious that I needed to seek out those that ran things early on. Three names kept coming up – Barbara Doby, Judy Haire and Janice Jenkins. These ladies chaired Farmers Day for many years. I was able to get up with two of these ladies and they both had a lot to share.

Janet Ruffin

Janice and I go back a long time — when I was teaching classes at the South Rowan YMCA. When her name came up, I was thinking, “My Janice Jenkins?” So, I got in touch with Janice and she was surprised I didn’t know about her years of chairing. Janice had a plethora of information to share.

She was the chair for Farmer’s Day for 18 years, beginning in 1989. Barbara Doby was the original chair for the first seven years.

The first Farmer’s Day was originally in 1903, and 79 years later they had the second one, with around 5,000 in attendance compared to the crowd size of 40,000 by 1989. The crowds still have remained large over the years. The very first Farmers Day was held on the fourth Saturday in July. After that year, they changed it to the date everyone knows — the third Saturday of every July. The date was chosen because “at the time, we had Cannon Mill workers coming back from being off the week of July 4. This gave the workers time to work two weeks and get a pay check so they could come and enjoy,” Janice said.

In 1989, there was definitely a need for more than one stage. Janice got busy with it and had a main stage in front of Captain’s Galley (which always closed for Farmer’s Day), a children’s stage for storytelling and puppets. The Hanna Park stage had local performances. The only stage now is found in Hanna Park.

For many years, Janice and her committee members marked the streets with tape for where the booths would go. It was very time consuming, but eventually the state came in and placed spikes in the road to assist with knowing where booths would go; that was a huge help. The streets have been paved since then, but the spikes are still there! Take a close look next time you drive through Downtown China Grove.

Originally, the booths were on the sidewalks and Janice got the booths moved into the streets, which allowed for more booths and easier movement for those attending. The actual Farmers Market moved from being on the street over to the China Grove Roller Mill parking lot — where it still is to this day. Farmers do not have to pay a fee to participate in Farmer’s Day.

The cost of the booths has changed a lot over the years as well. The first year in 1982 the booth charge was $1, in 1983 booths were $2, in 1989 the booths were $40, $85 and then today to $125 for vendors, $85 for crafts and $30 for civic groups.

For years, they have always had a Little Mr. and Miss Farmer Contest. Parents bring their children dressed in farming apparel with the hopes of them grabbing the beloved titles. Originally, the Farmers Day committee would ask the Watermelon Queen from Murfreesboro to come and judge the competition. I know I’d personally have a hard time picking a winner with such cute participants.

We all know July can be one of the hottest months of the summer, or at least feels like it. Janice said they’ve kept up with temperatures over the years for Farmers Day. One of the hottest days recorded was in 1995; it was 107 degrees. Now that will melt your ice cream! The most interesting temperature though was the coolest day — 84 degrees in 1984. Sounds like a perfect temperature to me!

This wasn’t a one-person job by any means, and Janice will be the first to tell you that. She told me there were 40 committee members in 1989 and each person had their own committee, which could mean at least 100 people all working towards the goal of having a fantastic Farmers Day.

There has also been help from town maintenance employees that help with set up. Janice recalled one year her husband and David Ketner, who worked for the town at the time and was better known as Chop, climbed light poles to hook up extension cords for vendors that wanted electricity. Vendors paid $10 extra if they wanted or needed power. She even had her kids at a flower shop blowing up balloons for the decorations. It was an all-day process from sunup to sundown and then into the night with the street dance, bands, and lastly, the fireworks.

Janice stated, “it takes a village to have Farmer’s Day and I couldn’t have done it without everyone’s help.”

This is an excerpt from a post on yourrowan.com by Janet Ruffin, who is a regular contributor to the website. Read the full post at yourrowan.com/farmers-day-it-takes-a-village.

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