ELLERBE — Farming isn’t what it was when city and rural folk first celebrated Richmond County’s Farm-City Week two decades ago.
Vegetables were big. Tobacco was bigger. And many farmers still harvested by hand.
“It was a lot different in the Eighties and Nineties,” said Amy Yaklin, executive director for the Richmond County Farm Service Agency and a 22-year veteran of the Farm-City Week parade committee, which helps plan the November event.
Still, one thing hasn’t changed: The week will offer a parade celebrating the people who grow the food the county eats. And vendors will sell homemade goods from quilts to flags to seasoned turkey legs.
“It’s for everybody in the county or anyone who wants to come,” Yaklin said Monday. The celebration lets “people know that the farmers are here … and want to celebrate what they do” in the weeks before Thanksgiving.
Richmond County has 277 farms, according the N.C. Extension Service, which also is involved in the celebration. That includes 17 fruit, nut and berry farms, and 19 melon, vegetable and potato farms. Other farmers raise livestock and other products.
To honor the county’s farmers, Yaklin and her co-organizers are seeking people who want to enter the Nov. 18 parade, whose theme is “Shake the Hand That Feeds You: Eat Local.” Entry forms, available from the Farm Service Agency, are due Nov. 14.
Horses and buggies, venerable tractors and fire trucks will follow a route from Ballard Street, near Ellerbe Middle School and the schools’ bus garage, to downtown starting at 11 a.m. The parade usually includes more than 100 units, Yaklin said.
Downtown, a couple of dozen or so vendors will await the end of the parade behind Ellerbe Town Hall, at Second and Page streets.
Usually, Yaklin said Monday, 3,000 to 5,000 visitors attend the parade and festival that follows.
A farmers’ luncheon Nov. 20 will celebrate farmers and their local partners. During the luncheon, the Cooperative Extension will announce the 2017 Family and Outstanding Conservation Farm Family of the Year.
Yaklin, who remembers being excused from the first week of each school year to pick tobacco, said Richmond County once was “one of the biggest produce counties around.”
“We had several thousand acres of tobacco, and now we have a couple hundred.” she said.
“A lot of it (crops) was hand harvest 22 years ago and now is mechanical.”
Another thing that has changed is the average age of a farmer, she said. Most farmers now “are 55 to 75. We don’t have many young farmers.”
Yaklin hopes the newly opened AGInnovation Center, a team effort between Richmond and Moore counties and the N.C. Cooperative Extension, will put the oomph back in local produce sales. The center also will aim its efforts at recruiting and training young farmers.
“It takes more (land and money) to make more money” these days, Yaklin said. “We’re hoping that (center) will be a big plus for the young farmers who want to get into produce or specialty crops.”
In the meantime, it’s time to celebrate farmers the old-fashioned way.
“Farm-City Week used to be a national movement that was meant to help ‘city folks’ understand agriculture and the people who grow the food for us,” said Susan Kelly, director of the Richmond County Extension Service.
Now, most people in Richmond County are aware of farming because they shop at farmers’ markets in Rockingham and Hamlet, as well as at private produce stands selling everything from potatoes to peaches.
“Richmond County has had a wonderful tradition of maintaining the same week — the week before Thanksgiving — to salute farmers,” Kelly said.
“The Farmers’ Day Parade is a great example of the community coming together to celebrate our farm culture.”
Matthieu Quick drives a Allis-Chalmers tractor in the 2016 Farmers Day Parade in Ellerbe. This year’s parade is Nov. 18.