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JCVB Blog

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Johnston County Hams and Christmas

Johnston County Hams and Christmas

Update: This blog was originally posted last year around this time. It remains an important statement about what Johnstonians hold dear during the holidays and at other time of strife and joy. The making and sharing of food is a language of its own. A Johnston County Ham on the table at Christmas is a gift that can be shared. Rufus Brown and his team's hard work paid off this year especially. The 2016 "Made in America: Gifts From Each of the 50 States" list in Parade Magazine has a Johnston County ham as the gift to get from North Carolina. Hams can be purchased from the Ham Shop in Smithfield or ordered online through the Johnston County Hams website

Blog Post Originally Titled As Long As There is You and Food

In a recent article published on the Southern Foodways Alliance website, Johnston County native Emily Wallace discussed the battle between Smithfield, VA and Smithfield, NC to be Ham Capital of the World. The article, called Ham to Ham Combat is both fascinating and funny. You can read it here.

More importantly, her interview with Johnston County Hams owner Rufus Brown produced quite the interesting quote, highlighted below.


Today, Brown says, the majority of local customers buy hams just once a year for their holiday tables. Folks call relentlessly. “I tell some of the people who work here, I say, ‘Listen. Their whole house could burn down, they could lose all their presents, but if their refrigerator made it through the fire with that ham in it, that Christmas would be fine,'” says Brown. “They say, ‘Nah, you’re crazy!’ But I say, ‘Once you get through one Christmas, you’ll see.'”


As a native of Johnston County myself, I can add validity to Brown's conviction that what matters most to locals around the holidays is food. It always seemed particularly cruel to me that the Grinch not only took presents and decorations, but emptied out the contents of all the kitchens in Whoville. What sort of monster takes the Roast Beast?! Johnston County Hams

This notion stems from a deep belief I have ingrained in me as a southerner that any obstacle, hardship, or unpleasantness we face shrinks to insignificance when we gather around a table filled with food and good company. And maybe that's not strictly southern, maybe it is simply human. But, our belief that presents and decorations are secondary to the tradition of a holiday meal shared with friends and family is not the only "food tradition" that southerners hold dear.

In fact, a good look at the history of southern hospitality reveals an unwavering notion that food is how you show that you care. When a family suffers a tragedy, when a new neighbor moves in, and on every major holiday, people provide food in support and in solidarity. As we mourn together and celebrate together, Johnstonians know that the best way to say 'I love you' or even 'Merry Christmas' is through providing nourishment - pies, cakes, casseroles, pudding, and, yes, ham. Below is a picture of the coveted Johnston County Christmas ham.


Instead of attempting to describe how amazing this ham is, I'll let Johnston County Hams do it for me, "For over 60 years and across two generations of renowned curemasters, we at Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, North Carolina have hand crafted "cured" country hams inspired by the techniques used by America's early colonists."

Another family-owned Johnston County establishment catering to our obsession with food is Atkinson Milling Company. Open since 1757, no I did not type a number wrong, and owned by the Wheeler family going on three generations now.

I asked Andrew Wheeler, third generation Wheeler at Atkinson's, to share what Christmas means to his family. He said that Christmas for the Wheeler family is always celebrated on Christmas Eve at Grandma and Papa's house (that's Betty and Ray Wheeler, the first Wheelers to own Atkinson's Mill, pictured below), "Traditionally, Grandma cooked the whole spread. The foods that are Wheeler family traditions are fresh greens, Grandma's macaroni and cheese, a BIG pot of chicken pastry (Atkinson's of course) and hushpuppies (obviously Atkinson's as well!). The greens are always grown and delivered that week by Colon and Coy Batten, longtime Wheeler family friends."

Ray and Betty Wheeler
But he can't just list the food, because, as I have pointed out, food means more than something to eat, it means heritage and home, "Papa loves Grandma's homemade macaroni and cheese, so it is a staple. And Grandma always made the best pastry. It was perfectly seasoned and never stuck together. The hushpuppies are significant to our family because our Atkinson's Regular Hushpuppy Mix was Grandma's own personal recipe and the very first product our company ever made after plain cornmeal."

"After everyone eats, all 34 of us (yes there are 34 of us, hence the BIG pot of pastry) pile into the living room to open gifts. In recent years Papa has taken over the gifting from Grandma and it is always a lot of fun to see what he picked out for everyone. He gets all the grandchildren a gas card and a funny gift. For example, last year my wife received a bottle of aftershave and I got a can of soup. It is always a treat to laugh at everyone's crazy gifts and his unique spellings of all our names (Papa is known for his inventive spelling). While all the gifting is going on some of the children and grandchildren have a little wrapping paper fight. Grandma scolds everyone saying that she is going to take a switch to us all. In my 26 years she never has; we're all starting to think she's not entirely serious."

Atkinson offers a wide range of cornmeals, biscuit mixes, breaders, and grits. The best product for the holidays, in my opinion, is the Atkinson's Cinnamon Flake Biscuit Mix. Try using it to make the cinnamon roll recipe on our website here. You can get more Johnston County Christmas recipes here.

No matter your holiday tradition, favorite foods, or family recipes, I hope that you, like the Wheelers, are gathering together with those closest to you. Merry Christmas from Johnston County! May your new year be filled with more nourishment then a slice of Johnston County Ham on top of a warm, buttery Atkinson Milling Company biscuit.

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Celebrate New Year's Eve at The Farm

Celebrate New Year's Eve at The Farm

If you’ve been to, or heard of, Farm Fest then you know that The Farm in Semla, NC puts on one heck of a show. Last year, their first ever New Year’s Eve bash was a packed-house success. This year’s event will be no different. Dance and groove to the sounds of Jim Quick and Coastline. Enjoy small bites provided by Backyard Bistro catering. Cheers to the new year in style. And watch the ball drop on the big screen at midnight!

The Farm asks that you come dressed in your festive attire (no jeans please) and celebrate 2017 with wonderful music and great friends. Doors will open at 8:00PM and there will be a cash bar including beer, wine, and soft drinks.  You must be at least 18 years of age to join the party. Taxis will be available outside after the event for those that will need a ride home.

This year, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau has worked with area Smithfield hotels to offer an exclusive hotel rate for visitors that have tickets to The Farm event and need accommodations in the area. There is a link to purchase tickets on this page here. Participating hotels are located just miles from the venue and include Baymont, Best Western, Country Inn & Suites, Holidays Inn Express, Sleep Inn, and Super 8.

Trent Lassiter, General Manager at The Farm Entertainment Venue is ready to put on the event again, “We are excited to be ringing in 2017 at The Farm!  This is our second year hosting a New Year's Eve event like this and it's sure to be a good time.”  

The Farm’s other events like Farm Fest and Beach Fest draw hundreds of people from all around the eastern part of the state.  People are looking for unique events to attend and The Farm’s packed calendar proves that Lassiter is willing and ready to offer it, “Lots of people from our area, not to mention visitors and travelers on I-95, used to have to drive over to Raleigh and other places for a NYE party such as this. But now, they can toast the new year in Johnston County with a fun night of entertainment at a great venue.”

For more information on New Years at The Farm and hotel rates, visit our dedicated webpage. To find out more about The Farm’s events and concerts throughout the year, visit their Facebook page.

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Johnston County Holiday Celebrations

Johnston County Holiday Celebrations

The holidays in Johnston County brings to mind my childhood and a Christmas filled with twinkling lights, the sounds of the season, and my breath fogging up the cold air as I eagerly awaited Santa at the end of the town Christmas parade.

In the spirit of getting the most out of the holidays, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau has completed for the second year in a row a list of holiday events happening in all of Johnston County's towns - parades, light shows, tree lightings, and other special celebrations.

For more information on each listing visit www.johnstoncountyevents.com, a site provided by the JCVB that you can return to throughout the year for events and festivals happening each month around Johnston County.

I hope that you enjoy this magical time of year with family and friends and that these events give you the opportunity to spend time together celebrating the season.

You can also download this document here: 2016-joco-holiday-events.pdf

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Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday

Everyone has their own opinions surrounding Black Friday. Some would classify it an obsession. Some, a tradition. While others find it's slow erosion of Thanksgiving Day and family-time appalling. Whether you're spending Friday the 25th of November in front of the TV on the couch or in line at a store, you certainly have the next day, Saturday the 26th, to go shopping or shop some more. And the Saturday after Thanksgiving has, for the past 6 years, been known as Small Business Saturday.

Started in 2010 and championed by American Express, Small Business Saturday is one day out of the year where shoppers are encouraged to focus their attention and buying-power on small, locally-owned businesses. These are the shopkeepers on the corner, the chefs serving-up homegrown dishes in the kitchen, the artists and growers and merchants on main streets across the country. They have hand-made, hand-picked, and personally-selected items in their stores that would make the perfect Christmas gift for someone on your list. They can help you pick the most cheerful decorations, the perfectly-paired wine, or provide a warm meal to keep you going while you shop the day away.

The best part is that whether you're a local or a visitor to Johnston County this holiday season, small business shops and restaurants are all around. They're waiting to welcome you this Saturday. In fact, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau (JCVB) has been working on creating and posting videos that highlight all the many things to do along the main streets in Johnston County. You can view the Benson video here, the Clayton video here, and the Smithfield video here. Don't forget about Four Oaks' boutiques and general store and Selma's plethora of antique shops. Keep on the lookout for videos coming about these area's as well. This Saturday would be an excellent time to check out all these downtown areas for yourself.

It is on days like Small Business Saturday that we can reflect on how important these businesses are to our local economy. And tourism, by definition, exists to support and sustain the success and growth of these businesses by bringing in visitors from outside the county to enjoy everything that JoCo has to offer. So this Saturday, thank a small business owner and get all your friends and family Christmas presents that have been "sourced-locally".

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Ava Gardner Museum to Unveil New Exhibit in December

Ava Gardner Museum to Unveil New Exhibit in December


The Ava Gardner Museum in Downtown Smithfield, NC will unveil a new exhibit on the 10th of December. The museum has displays that change annually so that visitors to the museum can see new items from the vast collection the museum curates of Ava’s clothes, costumes, photos, personal mementos, art, letters, and props. If you have yet to see last year’s exhibit you have a few more weeks before it comes down. The current exhibit includes artifacts and information associated with Ava's friend and costar Omar Sharif, who sadly passed away last year. The exhibit also includes a tribute to her husband Frank Sinatra in honor of his 100th birthday and a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Ava's death, both of which were observed last year.

This year’s exhibit will be titled “Ava Living in London” and will highlight Ava’s life in London from the movies she filmed there to her time as a permanent resident starting in 1968 up to her death in 1990. The unveiling event on the 10th will include a homage to a traditional English tea, sponsored by local business Grapes & Grounds and starting at 10am.

Though Ava is from Johnston County, she was also happy to call England home for many decades. She stated multiple times that it reminded her very much of North Carolina. “And strangely enough, England proved to be very much like North Carolina. The English use expressions I’ve never heard anyplace else but back home, so I felt comfortable with them right away,” quoted from Ava’s autobiography titled “Ava, My Story”.

The exhibit will include publicity shots from her time filming there, video from those films, and tableaus recreating iconic scenes from her life in London. Deanna Brandenberger, Director of the Ava Gardner Museum, states that it will be an exhibit like never before seen at the museum, “In conjunction with receiving the honor of the Blue Plaque in London, we have decided to uniquely portray Ava’s life in London where she lived 32 years.”

In Ava’s own words, traveling and living abroad had a profound effect on her life for the better, “Pandora [the film] got me outside these United States for the first time and introduced me to the two countries, England and Spain, where I was to spend much of the rest of my life. One trip abroad, honey, and I almost never looked back.”

The exhibit opening coincides with plans to recognize Ava at multiple events in London. As Brandenberger mentioned, The English Heritage will be dedicating a London Blue Plaque to Ava Gardner at her last home, 34 Ennismore Garden on November 4th, 2016 at 10am.  Last month the British Film Institute (BFI) honored Gardner at the famous London Film Festival during a screening of Seven Days in May in which she co-starred with Kirk Douglas, the BFI’s classical artist of the year. In addition, the renowned Victoria and Albert Museum’s Clothworkers’ Centre houses twelve of Ava’s couture fashions that were donated by Ava and her family. Some of the pieces are slated to become part of the Balenciaga exhibit that will be put on display for the public next Spring.

The Ava Gardner Museum is located at 325 E. Market Street, Smithfield, NC and additional announcement on events will be posted on social media as well as on the museum’s website, www.avagardner.org.  Make sure to follow the museum on Facebook and Twitter for current news.

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Savory & Sweet Potato Recipes

Savory & Sweet Potato Recipes


Fall is for cool weather and warm comforting food, which means we've added more recipes to our on-going, online collection. This Fall we've found 4 sweet potato recipes and one butternut squash bonus recipe. Johnston County is one of the top county's in North Carolina for sweet potato production. We have a long history of trying to work sweet potatoes into everything from a traditional casserole to the breakfast and dessert tables. The unique flavor of sweet potatoes makes them an idyllic ingredient that can be utilized in both sweet and savory ways. The butternut squash recipe is a twist on a classic pasta carbonara dish. Serve a steaming bowl of it at your next dinner party to bring Fall flavor and carbolicious comfort food together.

If you would like a recommendation on how to get a hold of some delicious, locally-grown, Johnston County sweet potatoes, look no further than the Clayton Farm and Community Market. Their winter hours are every other Saturday from 10AM to 1PM and this Saturday the 29th there will be free Halloween fun for families. Click on a recipe below to give it a try and let us know how it went on our Johnston County Visitors Bureau Facebook page here. Happy Fall Ya'll!

Leftover Sweet Potato Casserole, Brie and Bacon Grilled Cheese

Sweet Potato Tots

Baked Sweet Potato Donuts with Dark Chocolate with Coconut

Sweet Potato Hash with Baked Eggs Recipe

Bonus: Butternut Squash Alfredo Pasta


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The Watermark of the Human Spirit

The Watermark of the Human Spirit


Sometimes in this blog I get to provide information, and sometimes I get to introduce interesting people. But better yet, every once in a while, I get to say something important.  This is one of those times. It is critical in the days and weeks to come that you shop local. And not just in your own community but in the communities you happen to visit, from Benson to Goldsboro to Fayetteville to Charleston to Savannah.

Hurricane Matthew damaged a lot of homes and businesses, some of which were shops, restaurants, hotels, museums, and historical sites. Visitation is their lifeblood. Being open to receive customers is critical. Not only are many of them facing repair costs with very little of the federal assistance afforded to residential property owners, but these local business owners take a loss every day they cannot open their doors. Please continue to support them. Make it a priority. Ask what you can do to help. When you see them reopen their doors, go make a purchase. From a tourism prospective “going local” has always been important to me. On a good day, shopping local provides you an opportunity to make a connection with someone who has ties to the place you’re visiting. It provides you with cultural context, a friendly face, and the sense of exploration you get from stepping outside your comfort zone to try the unknown and unique. But on a not-so-good day, shopping local provides you the opportunity to help someone with an entrepreneurial spirit continue to realize their dreams; your business is their key to recovery.

It’s going on two weeks now and the hurricane itself is a distant memory of the vast Atlantic Ocean. But from the Haitian villages all the way up to the small towns of eastern NC, the flood waters are only now receding and the destruction being accessed. There are still 18 shelters open in North Carolina housing displaced people. Yes, raging waters subside and we will rebuild our lives as generations of strong, stubborn Carolinians before us have done. But, help is needed. Much like currents can be both cruel and kind, humanity can also rise to the occasion. I’m asking you to choose kindness right now, as people return to homes and cars that are destroyed. As families deal with the loved ones they lost to the flood waters, let us band together to assist and to comfort.

A wonderful, digital publication Bit & Grain has provided a very thorough write-up on their website of how you can help Hurricane Matthew victims on a state-wide level and also by county. The contact and donation information listed includes Johnston County.

Don’t forget to thank a first responder or a utility worker. I would like to thank all of North Carolina and Johnston County’s first responders. You are the people who rush out to help while I stay hunkered down in my home. You are the boat in raging waters. You are the people on the frontlines putting yourself in harm’s way to help those in need. Even when flood waters recede and raging winds calm, you take a step forward every day when the rest of us take a step back. And to linemen, watermen, and public works people, who work ceaselessly to return our lives to normalcy, thank you.

This Saturday the 22nd of October the Clayton Center is hosting the last concert event of the Clayton Piano Festival. It will be an amazing night – 5 artists with 5 pianos all playing together on one stage. To say thank you, the center and the festival have come together to offer up-to 4 free tickets for first responders to the event so that they and their families can enjoy a night of entertainment at no cost. It is the least we can do for all you have done for us. Each responder can receive the tickets by simply calling the box office at 919-553-1737 or stopping by The Clayton Center at 111 E. 2nd Street in Clayton.

A writer is a reader first. It is because of this elementary and important rule that a writer’s words are the product of everything they have ever read. So, I would like to end this blog post by borrowing from a writer I love to read (and by unabashedly mentioning how wonderful Our State magazine is and that you should subscribe to it as a local or lover of North Carolina).

In her most recent welcome letter in Our State magazine, Editor in Chief Elizabeth Hudson wrote about rivers, both the joyful distraction and sometimes terrible destruction they offer up. I was privileged at an event a few weeks ago to hear her read these words along with the rest of the letter out loud. She could not have known, nor could the rest of us in that room have known, how true these words would ring just a few weeks later. Nor could Our State, who plans its editorial calendar months and years in advance, have known that their Rivers issue would hit stands a week after the devastation of Hurricane Matthew.


“During Hurricane Floyd, when the Tar River swelled 20 feet above flood stage, we lowered our heads and prayed so hard for our friends in eastern North Carolina… places where the river is a part of everything. If you look, you can still see the waterlines on clapboard, an alluvial yardstick of our history. Raging waters subside, eventually. And I hope, then, we speak of better days – of the swimming holes and of tires swinging from overhanging branches; of beloved wet dogs shaking on the banks; of Sunday baptisms and church picnics and family reunions; of pointing the nose of a canoe downriver and paddling; of spending quiet, perfect, peaceful afternoons in search of smooth, flat stones to sling, popping the surface of the water and making ripples that seem to go on forever.”


The waterlines will indeed mark for years and decades to come how high the waters of Matthew got. We will be able to viscerally measure how hard nature pushed at us and in our recovery will be able to tell the story of how we pushed back.  It is the push back that is tougher to see and measure; the watermark of the human spirit that shows how high we are all willing to rise to help those around us rebuild their lives.

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American Music Jubilee Christmas Show Is Here

American Music Jubilee Christmas Show Is Here

 

I love fall. I love the changing of the seasons. The magic in nature’s unseen and unheard signal to turn down her thermostat, bringing relief to those of us in the South tired of sweat-breaking temperatures. The second that the air in eastern North Carolina drops below 65 degrees and the breeze starts stirring the leaves, I throw open my windows and turn the HVAC unit OFF. Hello chilly air, hello sweaters and blankets and warm cups of coffee.

Much sooner then I would like the orange glow of pumpkins and the scent of cinnamon apples will give way to all things red and green and the fresh, clean, biting scent of winter air will settle in. My love for fall is eclipsed only by my love for Christmas. I mean, I LOVE Christmas. If I have my iPod on shuffle in the car and a Christmas song comes on, I don’t care if it’s April, I’ll let it play. Sometimes it takes more than one month to contain all you love about the holidays.

Thankfully, that’s why there is the American Music Jubilee in Selma, NC. Their Down Home Christmas Show starts November 5th of this year and will run through December 21st, which gives you plenty of time to experience the joy of the holidays through music and laughter.

A show at the American Music Jubilee is an evening of southern hospitality, great American music, and side-splitting comedy that will delight audiences of every age. Add a couple of surprise guests, like Santa and his friends, and this show is guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit!  A touch of Branson and a touch of Myrtle Beach, American Music Jubilee includes a ten member cast that skillfully combine comedy skits with traditional and modern Christmas music.  

The show normally begins at 1:40pm and 7:40pm, but we suggest checking the calendar and booking in advance to reserve your seat. Admission charges are $28.50 for adults with special pricing available for children, balcony seating, and groups of 20 or more. Groups should call ahead.

The reason the Jubilee starts their Christmas show in November is because so many people want to see it, and because some people like me want to experience a little Christmas before December 1st. Just remember to make the most out of your Down Home Christmas Show experience by exploring Selma before or after the show. Selma has 14 antique and specialty stores as well as outlet shopping – so you can get that Christmas shopping done a little early too.

Selma, NC is located along the I-95 Corridor at exit 97.  For more information and for tickets call 1-877-843-7839 or (919) 202-9927. You can also visit the website at www.amjubilee.com.

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Fear and Fun can be Found in Johnston County this October

Fear and Fun can be Found in Johnston County this October


The Clayton Fear Farm has been run by Boyette Family Farms for years and is the Triangle area's only scream park. This means that the Fear Farm isn't just a haunted house or maze, but a spooky destination with 7 uniquely terrifying haunted attractions. You could spend hours being scared to death!

This year’s frightening features offer the opportunity to pick your scare. Will it be the dark corn maze, the spooky woods, the terrifying school house, or a trip into a black hole? Be sure to bring your friends along, if you bring enough there’s a group rate. Ticket pricing lets you pick a little scare or a whole lot of terror; tickets are available for all attractions or on a per attraction basis. Check out the Clayton Fear Farm schedule on their website for dates and times.

Night time scare attractions are recommended for kids ages 12 and up. However, you can also visit Boyette’s during the day for non-scary Halloween fun with younger kids. There are hayrides, a playground, a corn maze, pumpkin picking, games, and other activities. Open through October on Saturdays from 10:00AM to 5:00PM and Sundays 1:00PM to 5:00PM.


New to Johnston County, in Kenly, is Sonlight Farms, offering a corn maze as well as bounce houses, hayrides, fall games, and fun props for family photo ops. There is even a smaller maze for the little ones to have fun in. Open every weekend in October on Fridays from 5PM to 9PM and Saturdays 3PM to 9PM.

Visit the Sonlight Farms website for more information and location. Sonlight is owned and operated by locals Joshua and April Phillips, who love the fall and wanted to create a place on their farm that family, friends, and visitors could enjoy everything the season has to offer. They hope you make a Sonlight visit a part of your family’s fall traditions.


Smith's Nursery and Produce Farm runs a pumpkin patch every October on their sprawling family farm. Not only can you get a pumpkin for carving but you can explore the farm which has hayrides, animals, a sunflower field, a pond, and even bee hives. Be sure to take the family to the Smith’s Fall Festival on October 22nd from 10:00AM to 3:00PM. There will be all the usual fall activities listed above plus horseback rides, music, bbq, a firetruck demo, face painting, and more. Visit their Facebook event page for more information.

Lazy O Farm in Smithfield also offers fall fun on the farm experiences for kids and families. The best time to go is Saturday October 29th from 2:00PM to 5:00PM for their Trick or Treating in the Maze event. This is a non-scary event for the little ones with animals, hayrides, a playground, and even a new Fairy Tale Trail offered this year. For more information on the event like location and cost, visit the Facebook event page.


Wilson’s Mills Pumpkin Festival will take place on October 8th from 10:00AM to 4:00PM at the Wilson’s Mills Town Hall. This is a family friendly event with vendors, children's activities, dunking booth, music, food, and much more! There will be a 5k Run/Walk for the Sue Daniels Memorial and Backpack Buddies, as well as a charity car show. A day of fun for everyone and admission is free!


For the lovers of fall who are over 21, plan to hang out at a local brewery, beer store, or your own back yard with a cold one in hand this October. Our Johnston County craft breweries have you covered. Deep River Brewing is known for their Fall and Winter seasonals, one of which is a Pumpkin Pie Porter with all the spices you associate with Fall. The other is a show-stopper brewed in the style of a Belgian Dubbel with local Johnston County sweet potatoes and toasted marshmallows going into the brew. It's called the JoCo White Winter. Yum! Double Barley Brewing has put some rock n' roll into their seasonal beer called Gourd Rocker Imperial Pumpkin Porter. This is a rich, creamy, nicely spiced beer like many other delicious fall seasonal beers. Except that in true Double Barley fashion this craft brew comes in at a 9.4% ABV. That's why it's called gourd rocker!

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Festival Celebrates Five Years of Making and Sharing Music

Festival Celebrates Five Years of Making and Sharing Music

 
The Clayton Piano Festival is celebrating their 5th season this Fall with an astounding line-up of artists. The season schedule of concerts will run October 14th through October 22nd. Organizers are expanding the festival to reach a larger community and have added additional events to celebrate this important anniversary. This year there will be six concerts with one at the Cary Arts Center and another at the Preston Woodall House in Benson, with the remaining events to be held in Clayton.

Both the Creative Director of the festival and a performer every year, Johnston County local Jonathan Levin is excited to showcase the growth of the festival as it enters year five, “Our goal over the years has been to share the joy and exhilaration that great music can bring in a fresh, new way each year, presenting a variety of top level classical artists from around the world.  I think at this point it’s become an anticipated cultural event in the area and we’re very pleased about that.”

The format of the Clayton Piano Festival is built on the premise of accessibility and interaction with the artist. As in past years, there will be intimate dinner concerts at smaller venues, and social “meet the artist” receptions following the concerts to enhance the experience for attendees.  There will be outreach programs to area schools to share the importance of music education and bring concert quality performances to more than 1,000 students.
Clayton Piano Festival Year Five Poster
This year’s concerts include a variety of music genres such as Ragtime and progressive rock.  Levin explains that “the idea is to show the full extent of what the piano can do, not just one discipline.” Performances this year include Rachael Flowers, a multi-talented instrumentalist and composer who lost her sight as an infant. According to Levin the festival is happy to have booked her, “we’re getting her right before she becomes famous. Racheal just had a Hollywood documentary made about her that is already making the film festival circuit.”

Levin, himself always modest, will be a can’t miss performance as well. Just last week he performed a solo recital debut at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Rorianne Schrade reviewed the performance for New York Concert Review and had this to say, “Showmanship, intelligence, more than ample pianism, and sensitive musicality are all wrapped up in one package in this young artist, so he should do quite well in his career.” This year’s festival line-up offers a unique chance to catch Jonathan in his hometown of Clayton.

Along with returning performers Jonathan Levin and Angelo Rondello, newcomer and renown ragtime pianist and composer Mill McNally at the Preston Woodall House and Russian pianist Azamat Sydykov at the Wagner House will be charming audiences with their performances. Which include dinner provided by the venue, and each will also include a reception to meet the artist.

The final gala will truly be a show stopper.  Hear five CPF artists perform, each sharing inspiring insights into a work with special personal significance for them.  Special guest, Mary Prescott, an adventurous, multi-genre artist, joins the others as she shares her unique voyage into learning the art of improvisation. To conclude the concert and the 5th season, all 5 artists will perform together on stage at the same time…on 5 pianos! With six hundred seats to fill, the organizers of the final concert are offering FREE tickets for children up to age 18, one for each paid adult ticket.

General ticket prices for Concerts with Dinner at The Wagner House and Preston Woodall House are $45.00 adult, $35.00 seniors, $25.00 students, concerts only $15.00 for adults and $5.00 students.  For the Sunday performance by Jonathan Levin at the Wagner House, tickets are $15.00 adults and $5.00 students/children.  The final concert performance featuring all five pianos will be $20.00 adults, $15.00 for seniors and military, and FREE for children under 18 years old. Tickets for the event are available at www.claytonpianofestival.org/schedule-tickets and tickets for the final performance may be purchased directly with The Clayton Center at www.theclaytoncenter.com.

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Local Caterer Appears on Food Network's Cake Wars

Local Caterer Appears on Food Network's Cake Wars

Copied with permissions By Keith Barnes and the Kenly News

Joyce Jenkins of The Serving Spoon in Pine Level appeared as assistant to her daughter, Charlise Johnson, a Smithfield native who now lives in Atlanta, on Food Network’s “Cake Wars” last week making it to the final round of the high-profile competition.

“Cake Wars” episode, which aired on Monday evening, Sept. 5, featured the Johnston County team and followed four bakers competing in two timed elimination-style rounds. Each baker was vying for a chance at a $10,000 prize but only one master cake artist got the chance to walk away with the top prize. The team of Jenkins and Johnson County beat out two other baking teams before being eliminated in the final round of competition.

Jenkins is owner of The Serving Spoon located at 212 N. Peedin Ave. in Pine Level and has been a caterer in Johnston County for 13 years. Johnson graduated from Smithfield-Selma High School and now lives in the Atlanta area where she launched her custom cake-baking business in 2013.

“She’s been cooking with me since she was three years old and she’s 36 now,” said Jenkins. To get on the show Charlise Johnson sent in a video and her entry was selected by the judges leading to an invitation to come to California and compete.

“For the show the contestants each were allowed to get an assistant,” said Jenkins. “She asked me if I’d help her because she felt the most confident with me.”

“One contestant was from Pennsylvania, one was from New Jersey and the other was from California,” said Jenkins. “They were pretty formidable opponents.”

“They give you a list of ingredients that you have to choose from,” said Jenkins. “We made a lemon basil cake with tomato jam and used ricotta cream cheese icing and a sweet potato cake and whipped cream icing.”

Jenkins said every bit had to be prepared from scratch and they were given no hints or clues prior to the competition of what they would be doing. “It was an enjoyable experience,” said Jenkins. “We had fun and enjoyed meeting the other bakers who we became very good friends with before we left. I’m so happy Charlise took me along for the ride.”

“The biggest thing I got out of it was that I got to help my daughter grow her brand,” said Jenkins. “Anytime I can help my children succeed in life I’ll be there 100 percent.”

Earlier this year at the Johnston County Arts and Food Festival Gala held at Johnston Community College The Serving Spoon took home two top prizes winning in the most original dish and best appetizer categories.

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The Shindig - It's Music for Your Beers!

The Shindig - It's Music for Your Beers!

UPDATE: Rescheduled to November 13th!

To better assist in the understanding of this blog for those not “in the know” and especially for those that “want to be in the know” I have decided to kick-off this week’s blog with a couple of definitions.

1. Shindig - a large, lively party, especially one celebrating something.
2. Americana - an amalgam of American folk music formed by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that make up the musical ethos of the United States; specifically, those sounds that are merged from folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and other external influences.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about The Shindig. 2016 marks year number five for this intrepid festival, held every October in downtown Clayton, NC. Be sure to get your tickets for this year’s Shindig held October 8th from noon to 10PM. The theme of this year’s event is “Music for Your Beers” because the organizers of the event want to highlight both the amazing bands the music festival is proud to host and the 7 craft breweries that will be on the scene for your enjoyment.

This year’s line-up includes over 10 bands and leads with American Aquarium (pictured below), The Black Lillies, and Yarn. Dave Brown, head of Earth Plow productions and one of the key organizers of Shindig, is very pleased with the line-up, “there isn’t another Americana music festival anywhere. The Shindig strives to bring you cutting-edge music by bands you’ve never seen or heard before in an intimate venue.” This goal is what drives the line-up every year and is why the festival has taken a turn towards the Americana genre recently while still having bluegrass bands on the schedule.
American Aquarium Comes to The Shindig
If you’ve never been to Shindig, or any music festival, this is the year to attend. Brown says that they’ve never had this many bands on the ticket with this much of a following. American Aquarium, the headlining band, is generating over 250 likes on their Facebook page daily. Festival organizers expect the popularity of the genre and the popularity of the bands to draw in attendees. As of now there are people coming from places all over NC and from surrounding states – SC, VA, TN, and even CO.

The growth of the festival year-over-year is exciting but Brown still calls it, “the best festival you’ve never heard of.” The Shindig isn’t on a national scale with music festivals like Moogfest or Bonaroo, but it wants to be. Right now though the smallness of the festival means you can experience the heart of what a music festival is supposed to be, with nationally recognized bands, at a reasonable ticket price, and without the crowds associated with larger festivals.

The other component of The Shindig is craft beer and food trucks. You can’t enjoy good music for hours on end without sustenance. West Johnston County has a great craft beer community with well-loved breweries Deep River and Double Barley, both of who will be on-tap on the 8th. But, sometimes you need a little more than 2 for a party. So, Shindig got Foothills Brewing, Bull City Cider Works, Fullsteam Brewing, Bombshell Brewing, and new-kid-in-town Yester Year Brewing out of Carrboro. So not only will there be music you’ve never heard before, but also beer you’ve never tasted! Plus, with multiple food trucks already confirmed and Zaxby’s sponsoring a chicken wing eating contest, you couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a Saturday.

I know what you’re asking yourself. How can this get any better? Well, hold on to your horses because there are still beer taster tickets with VIP line access available for purchase. General admission is $20 ahead online. But, for $35 ahead, and while they last, the UNLIMITED Beer Tasting Ticket gets you VIP "line-skip" service, a commemorative glass, and of course unlimited sampling of all of the craft breweries for 5 hours. Yes!!!

To find out more regarding sponsors, the line-up, tickets, or general information, visit www.theshindig.net. If you’re wondering what else there is to do while you’re in town for the Shindig, visit www.johnstoncountync.org. Lastly, if you want to keep up with other rad festivals and events happening in Clayton and Johnston County’s other towns visit www.johnstoncountync.org/events.

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67th Annual Benson Mule Days® Celebration set for September 21-25

67th Annual Benson Mule Days® Celebration set for September 21-25

Last week we did a round-up of Fall festivals and activities coming to JoCo as the weather gets cooler. This week we'll be focusing in on one of those events that is just a few weeks away.

The town of Benson, North Carolina celebrates Benson Mule Days® the 4th Saturday of September each year. This year it will take place September 21st through the 25th.  Mule Days was also recognized by the Southeast Tourism Society this year as a September 2016 Top 20 Event. The festival is considered one of the largest festivals in North Carolina and will kick-off with a carnival, trolley rides, and concert Thursday night.

This festival, which draws approximately 50,000 people, is full of family fun and activities for everyone young and old. The weekend is packed with rodeos, a mule pulling contest, arts and crafts, vendors, street dances, carnival rides, camping, parades, bluegrass shows and more.

The parade alone attracts about 20,000 people and takes place Saturday, September 24th at 10:00a.m. The parade will feature bands, floats, antique tractors, and hundreds of horses, mules, and buggies. Following the parade visitors can make their way to the Singing Grove Park where a Bluegrass show is being presented.

Visit the arts and crafts vendors as well as food and commercial vendors.  It is always fun to walk into the local businesses which offer a variety of products in our area.  There are three rodeos, the first of which begins on Friday night followed by a Saturday night performance.  On Sunday there is a Youth Rodeo.

As a rural community, Benson, North Carolina has long been known for its farm heritage.  The trading of mules was one of the town’s main occupations. The memories and a love for tradition led Nowell Smith and Willis McLamb to discuss with Lewis Lawrence, the first manager of the newly formed Benson Chamber of Commerce, the possibility of setting aside a day to celebrate the mule. In 1950, the Benson Area Chamber of Commerce agreed to sponsor the first Mule Days. The festival continues to be a spectacle that garners international attention. Visitors come from as far away as Alaska, Germany, and California to see and also participate in Mule Days.

For a complete schedule of this 67-year-old event visit www.bensonmuledays.com, call (919) 894-3825, or e-mail the Benson Chamber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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JoCo Has Tons of Festivals You'll FALL in Love With This Autumn

JoCo Has Tons of Festivals You'll FALL in Love With This Autumn

Summer vacations are over, the kids are back in school and you are looking for fun-filled weekend trips close to home to enjoy...and Johnston County fits the bill. Starting in September visitors will find many unique festivals and events to enjoy, and several that honor our agricultural heritage.
Mule Contests During Festival
Benson Mule Days began in 1949 in the charming farming community of Benson whose leaders wanted to honor the hard-working mule and the importance of agriculture in the region. For over 60 years, this festival has hosted Mule Competitions, rodeos, art festivals, midways and carnival rides and one of the largest parades in the state of North Carolina. Over 2,000 horses and mules will ride in the Saturday morning parade which over 10,000 people attend each year. If you are a horse or mule enthusiast and would like to ride in this year's parade, learn more on the event website, www.bensonmuledays.com. Admission is charged for carnival rides and rodeos. This year's Mule Days will take place the 22nd through the 25th of September.

The Clayton Harvest & Music Festival will be September 17th starting at 9:00AM. Enjoy the Kid's Corner, Safety City, Health & Fitness Village, Arts at The Wagner, over 200 vendors, classic car show, food, musical entertainment on The Main Stage, carnival rides and more. Keep up with their Facebook event page for on-going information.

Other September events include the St. Ann International Food Festival, a Deep River Beer Dinner with CJ's Street Food, and a Monster Truck Throwdown at GALOT Motorsports Park.


LoBoys in a Pumpkin Patchoking into October for things to do you may consider the Annual Selma Railroad Days Festival, always the first Saturday in October. Railroad Days includes a 5K run, parade, crafts, food, children's area and a variety of entertainment. Admission is FREE. For more information visit www.visitselma.org. If you love beer and bluegrass, then the second Saturday in October will have you sipping and singing along. The 5th Annual Shindig Music Festival will take place on the 8th in Clayton. The festival features 10 Americana and Bluegrass genre bands on 2 stages. You can read the band line-up and get tickets here.

October is bursting like a full pumpkin patch with other events for families like the Wilson's Mills Pumpkin Festival, the Broadslab Shine & Shop Handmade & Vintage Market, and the Clayton Piano Festival. Not to mention, tons of Halloween events later in the month. Don't forget about the many family-owned farms across Johnston County offering pumpkin patches, hayrides, and even spooky evening activities for adults. You can find their activities on our calendar of events as well. Click here to view the events calendar. In addition, you can call our office for a FREE visitors guide at 1-800-441-7829.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stroll Around Historic Smithfield

Stroll Around Historic Smithfield

Historic Downtown Smithfield now has a walking tour that highlights historical buildings, houses, and monuments. The Johnston County Visitors Bureau has designed and printed a brochure regarding the walking tour in partnership with the Johnston County Heritage Center. The brochure includes a map of the downtown area with each stop numbered. In addition, the Heritage Center has provided notes on the historical relevancy of each site. Points of interest like parking, visitor information, dining options, and the Ava Gardner Museum are also pictured on the map.

According to Heritage Center Director Todd Johnson, “taking the Historic Smithfield Walking Tour is not only a healthy activity but will teach you about our town’s history going back to colonial times.”

Johnson mentions that Smithfield offers a wide variety of architectural styles such as Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Second Empire, Colonial Revival, and Gothic Revival. There are several buildings on the tour that have stood since the Civil War, and each one has its own story to tell.

The purpose of creating guides like this one is to showcase the stories and heritage of historical towns like Smithfield. The walking tour adds to the options of things visitors to Smithfield can do and encourages them to discover local businesses along the way like shops and restaurants.

With Fall approaching and the evenings cooling off, visitors and locals alike can explore the walking route for themselves. The walking tour offers a chance to discover something about Smithfield that wasn’t known before. For example, the portion of the Smithfield courthouse facing Market Street was constructed in 1921, but the land that it stands on has been occupied by courthouses since the late 1700s. That’s more than 3 centuries of law and order in one location.

To learn more about these fascinating places or to pick up a brochure for a self-guided tour, please drop by the Heritage Center, 241 E. Market Street, anytime between 9:00AM and 5:00PM, Monday through Saturday. You can also download an electronic version of the walking tour guide on the Johnston County Visitors Bureau website.

If you’ve got friends or family coming into town, or you’re looking for an activity to go with your next office or corporate event, you can also inquire about guided tours of the historic walking route. To schedule a guided tour, call the Johnston County Heritage Center at 919-934-2836, or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   

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2015 Visitor Impact Numbers for Johnston County Released

2015 Visitor Impact Numbers for Johnston County Released


Visit North Carolina announced this week that domestic visitors to Johnston County spent $221.72 million in 2015, an increase of 3.2 percent from 2014.

"Not only did our visitor spending increase in calendar year 2015 as the results of the VisitNC study indicates, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau continues to invest in tourism development projects. Last year the bureau awarded $70,000 in Capital Grant Projects, as well as, completed the county-wide Parks & Recreation Study, spearheaded the Smithfield Wayfinding Project, and grew the membership of the JoCo Hospitality Association," stated Donna Bailey-Taylor, President/CEO.

A top priority from the above mentioned County-Wide Parks & Recreation Master Plan is to hire a Recreation Director and complete the 14-mile stretch of the Mountains to Sea Trail between Clayton and Smithfield.

Tourism impact highlights for 2015:
•    The travel and tourism industry directly employs more than 1,770 people in Johnston County.
•    Total payroll generated by the tourism industry in Johnston County was $34.65 million.
•    State tax revenue generated in Johnston County totaled $12.46 million through state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income. Approximately $5.55 million in local taxes were generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses.
•    If not for the $18.01 million in state and local taxes paid by tourists visiting Johnston County, each of the 60,700 county households would pay $297 more in taxes to replace tax revenue generated by tourism spending.

Gov. Pat McCrory announced in May that visitors to North Carolina set a record for spending in 2015. The $21.96 billion in total spending represented an increase of 3 percent from 2014.
These statistics are from the “Economic Impact of Travel on North Carolina Counties 2015,” which can be accessed at partners.visitnc.com/economic-impact-studies. The study was prepared for Visit North Carolina by the U.S. Travel Association.

“All eight economic development regions of the state had spending growth of 2 percent or more, and 91 percent of the state’s counties saw direct tourism employment growth from 2014 to 2015,” said Wit Tuttell, Executive Director of Visit North Carolina. “Tourism continues to be a major driver of economic development across North Carolina, which is the sixth most-visited state in the country.”

Statewide highlights include:
•    State tax receipts as a result of visitor spending rose 6.1 percent to top $1.1 billion in 2015.
•    Visitors spend more than $60 million per day in North Carolina. That spending adds nearly $4.9 million per day to state and local tax revenues (about $3.1 million in state taxes and $1.8 million in local taxes).
•    The travel and tourism industry directly employees more than 211,000 North Carolinians.
•    Each North Carolina household saves $475 in state and local taxes as a direct result of visitor spending in the state.

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau oversees the marketing efforts for the county to attract and serve visitors, therefore increasing the economic impact for the local economy. The Visitors Bureau is fully funded by the 3 percent hotel room tax paid by overnight visitors to the county.  In addition, the Towns of Benson, Kenly, Selma, and Smithfield have a 2% occupancy tax that is managed by the Visitors Bureau and is dedicated to each town's marketing efforts.  

If you are interested in learning more the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, visit the website, www.johnstoncountync.org. In addition, visitors and locals to Johnston County alike can always find out what’s happening in the area by visiting www.johnstoncountyevents.com which lists detailed information on festivals, entertainment, and fun happenings in JoCo through out the year.

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Tourism Director Celebrates 20 Years with JCVB

Tourism Director Celebrates 20 Years with JCVB

Donna Bailey-Taylor, Director of the Johnston County Tourism Authority, recently celebrated 20 years in her position. I sat down to ask her a few questions about how Johnston County's tourism industry has grown over the two decades since she started working to bring tourists to JoCo. I also asked about her experience in the Travel Tourism industry and what she thinks the future holds for tourism in Johnston County.

You’ve been at the JCVB for 20 years, but how long have you worked in the Travel and Tourism industry?

So all together I have been in the hospitality industry for thirty-five years. I began my career working in the hotel industry, first in sales for Hilton Hotels and later working for hotel development companies in regional sales and marketing.  I have opened hotels from the ground up and traveled extensively to support sales efforts for multiple brands.

As I started a family, the need to get off the road was important to me, so I transitioned to work for a convention and visitors bureau.  Since I was used to promoting whole communities and selling experiences, the move was a natural fit for me.  

What drew you to this industry?

After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in Industrial Relations, the jobs available to me all seemed to be in manufacturing or banking.  Also, it was 1981 and the unemployment rate was 22% in North Carolina.  I tried hotel sales and found out I was good at it!  I discovered I enjoyed meeting people and providing a service.  

What keeps you in this industry?

The variety of tasks each day continues to make my job rich and enjoyable.  From designing the next ad campaign or revamping the Visitors Guide, then community planning for new wayfinding signage or working with area museum boards to provide engaging visitor experiences….it’s diverse and ever changing.  I don’t think I could do the same task day in and day out.  

What has changed in tourism for Johnston County over the course of 2 decades?

With Johnston County being one of the fastest growing counties, not only in North Carolina but in the nation, tourism has grown fast as well.  When I started here in August of 1996, our annual operating budget was around $325,000 and today it tops $1.2 million.  Tourism marketing today has changed tremendously with the creation of social media, hand-held marketing devices we call mobile phones, and the niche marketing campaigns needed to reach the right customer, at the right time, with the right message.  

I would have to say 20 years ago, having billboards and a visitors guide were our primary goals, and today our marketing plan targets leisure travelers, sports tournaments, girlfriend shopping get-a-ways, and culinary travelers with the development of the Beer, Wine and Shine Trail.

What challenges do rural destinations face in marketing themselves?

Funding and staffing resources are often the first challenges because there never seems to be enough of either in small Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs).  And second, getting the attention of community leaders, state offices and residents on the importance of tourism to the community.  Our industry is made up of small businesses, but collectively visitor spending in hotels, restaurants, travel services, dining, shopping and area attractions is huge…it’s a big deal and in some rural communities it may have the potential to be their number one industry.

What have you accomplished at the JCVB that you’re particularly proud of?

Tourism development projects where our staff has volunteered countless hours helping to establish the Ava Gardner Museum, the Benson Museum of Local History, marketing for the Bentonville re-enactment, completing the county-wide Parks & Recreation Master Plan, and serving on many boards to lend our talents to the tourism industry…I feel this has been a grass-roots effort to build up the tourism infrastructure in the county.  You don’t see that commitment in many bureaus, who only see their job as driving visitors to the area.  In an emerging destination, building up the visitor experience is so important.  We want to be more than a stop-over on the way to some other destination – and more than “half-way between New York and Florida”.  

What would you like to accomplish still?

I would like to see the completion of the Mountains to Sea Trail between the towns of Clayton and Smithfield and the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site get a new state of the art Visitor Center with new exhibits, something the Friends of Bentonville group has been working on for many years.  

Also, I would like to see the Visitors Bureau secure a permanent home for our offices, as we have been renting space for more than 25 years.

You have family roots in the Benson area, what does working to promote Johnston County mean to you?

To me, this job is more than working to promote Johnston County – my heart is full of wonderful memories spent on the Bailey Farm just outside of Benson.  I feel we need to work toward preserving our heritage, whether it be farming, Civil War battlefields, or our connection to Hollywood.  That’s why over 12 years ago, we held classes on agri-tourism as a way to sustain the family farm and bring revenues to area farmers.  That’s why I continue to volunteer my time and talents to area non-profits.

I believe if we all work together we will all succeed!

How does tourism positively effect residents in Johnston County?

Tourism means dollars for small business owners – in 2015 more than $215 million was spent in Johnston County by visitors.  If the county did not have a strong tourism economy we would not have national brand shopping at our fingertips at Carolina Premium Outlets and dining opportunities like Starbucks, or Chipotle’s which just opened in Smithfield this year.

But just as important to us is showcasing local, independent business owners like Ray Wheeler at Atkinson’s Mill, Rufus Brown at Johnston County Hams and many others that have wonderful stories to tell. Visitors are interested in authenticity and we have plenty to share with them in Johnston County.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

Something creative is my first choice…painting, pottery, and photography to name a few.  Watching movies with my son Trey and reading detective novels on my IPAD.  Nothing fancy… for me, spending time with family is just a perfect day!  

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The Perfect Tomato Sandwich is a Simple One

The Perfect Tomato Sandwich is a Simple One

Home-grown Tomato Sandwich!

Johnston County is one of the fastest growing counties in North Carolina, but our roots are still in the soil and our agricultural heritage is strong. Our farmer's are very visible at the NC Farmer's Market in Raleigh as the spring and summer crops are being harvested which starts with sweet strawberries in April and blueberries in June and July. By the time August rolls around, the bounty is rich and plentiful with corn, peaches, okra, and more. But there is one crop that brings out the amateur farmer in us all -- the tomato.

Tomatoes will grow very well in planters and raised beds and many families grow this red, juicy, tasty, fruit in the backyard. As the tomatoes start getting ripe on the vine, the anticipation for that first tomato sandwich begins. It's a simple recipe, but one that in a way defines summertime in the South.

Tomato Sandwich Recipe

  • 1 medium size ripe tomato (homegrown, of course)
  • 2 slices bread like Pepperidge Farm Country White
  • 1 Tablespoon Duke’s Mayonnaise (do not substitute)
  • Salt and pepper

Wash and cut the tomato into thick slices. Spread the mayonnaise onto both slices of the bread. Make sure to spread the mayonnaise to the edge of each slice of bread. Place the tomato slices on one piece of bread. Add salt and pepper. Cover with the second slice of bread, mayonnaise side down, of course. Cut the sandwich into two pieces and enjoy the best tomato sandwich ever.

If simple just isn't your thing, try for a bit of avocado on there. Or, turn two recipes into one by substituting the ripe red tomatoes on your sandwich for fried green ones. Yum!

If tomatoes are not growing in your back yard, and you need to find a reliable source there are several options in the county. On the weekend, local farmer's markets like the Clayton Community Farm Market are great places to find a bounty of crop vegetables . Other options are Lee's Produce in Clayton and Smith's Farm in the McGee's Crossroads area.

Wherever you find your tomatoes and other summer fruits and vegetables, we hope you try some of the recipes we have on our site and that you will shop with our local farmers.

To find our more about visiting local farms in the county, visit our website, www.johnstoncountync.org/agritourism.

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Scenic Settings and Summer Sounds

Scenic Settings and Summer Sounds

Warm summer evenings call for a cold drink and some tunes. Thankfully, there are quite a few places in Johnston County where you can have both. We’ve rounded up musical performances happening around the county over the next month. Click through the links to find out more about each one. Also, don’t forget to follow the Johnston County Visitors Bureau on Facebook or visit www.johnstoncountyevents.com to stay up-to-date on events happening in the county.

July 23rd – Bluegrass Fest at the Farm – gates open at 11:00am
Performers include The Malpass Brothers and Al Batten & The Bluegrass Reunion. Bring a chair or a blanket and enjoy some of the best bluegrass acts round.

July 24th – Live Music on the Front Porch – 2:00pm to 4:00pm
Hinnant Vineyards has a glass of chilled wine and Wade Hill ready to serenade you on the front porch as you gaze about you at the lush vineyards.

July 29th – The Little Mermaid – 7:00am
The Clayton Youth Theater presents The Little Mermaid, a musical sea adventure for all ages. If you can’t catch it on the 29th be sure to visit their website for other dates and times. The show runs through the 6th of August.

August 11th – Sun down in Downtown Concerts – 5:30pm to 9:00pm
Come to the Benson Singing Grove to listen to Jim Quick and the Coastline Band. Bring a lawn chair and a picnic basket to make an evening out of it.

August 20th – An Evening with Gaylon Pope and Sweetwater – 8:00pm to 10:00pm
The Rudy Theatre, home of the American Music Jubilee, presents a special evening with Gaylon Pope.

August 20th – Clayton Town Square Concert Series – 5:30pm to 9:30pm
This month’s concert features Kasey Tyndall with the Big River Band. Evenings on the town square are made even better by the presence of Deep River Brewing and Wine on Main to provide libations while you jam.

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Make a Splash. Cast a Line.

Make a Splash. Cast a Line.

It’s the dog days of summer and in the south that means a lot of lazy front porch sitting with a cold glass of lemonade or sweet tea clutched in your hand like a lifeline. But, it can also mean floating down the river, casting a line, or diving in to cool off. In Johnston County, we’ve got tons of outdoor activities for both the adventurous and the idle at heart.

You can do all these activities in one trip if you make it a weekend escape to Johnston County. But Johnston County is also close enough to the Triangle to include all these in your list of day-trip, must-do Raleigh activities. If you’re traveling up or down I-95 this summer, stop and let the kids play off some of that energy. Many of the activities below are near the interstate.

Splishin’ and Splashin’ at Tucker Lake

Open May to September, Tucker Lake offers swimming, hiking, a playground, and picnic area. The lake is spring fed with sandy beaches, a rope swing, slides, and paddleboats, kayaks, and canoes available for rent. Lifeguards are on duty at all times, which makes this the perfect place to take the whole family on those hot summer days. You can bring your own chairs, rafts, food, and non-alcoholic drinks to enjoy as well.  

Tucker Lake is located in Benson and does have a daily admission cost. You can find more information by visiting the Tucker Lake website.

Catch Waves on Wires at Hexagon Wake Park

You could say that Hexagon Wake Park is for the athletic or adventurous, but their first-timers class makes sure that everyone who wants to give cable wakeboarding a try, can. For the uninitiated, cable wakeboarding is when a series of overhead cableski wires pull you through the water instead of a boat.

Hexagon shares space with Tucker Lake, though they have separate entrances, and parties that do not want to wakeboard can simply hang out at Tucker Lake. Both kids and adults of varying ages can brave the wake course and there are rentals available if you don’t have your own equipment, including the board, life jackets, and helmets. For more information on Hexagon and for a list of their pricing, visit their website.

Have Some Fun Out of the Sun at SRAC

If it’s too hot outside for the little ones, or you’ve got a case of the sunburn, try the indoor pool at SRAC – also known as the Smithfield Recreation & Aquatics Center. Along with an indoor pool, they’ve got a splash park for the little ones to enjoy and great locker room facilities.

If you’re visiting the area and/or are not a member, SRAC offers drop-in fees which you can pay to have access to the pool and the gym facility for the day. For more information, check out their website.

Rent a Canoe or Kayak and Float on the Neuse River

Scenic and historic, the Neuse River offers a gentle and relaxing ride. There are plenty of places along the Neuse in Johnston County to put in your own boat and go. But if you find yourself without equipment and know-how, contact Neuse Adventures Canoe and Kayak Rentals. They’ll get you all set and drifting down the river in no time. They also provide the drop off and pick up transportation for 2-hour quick-trip floats and longer 5-hour river excursions. Find out more about their float trips and rentals at their website.

See if the Fish Are Biting at Smith’s Nursery

Smith’s Nursery is family owned and operated. If you’re a Johnston County local, or an avid berry-picker, then you know that Smith’s is the place to be during strawberry and blueberry season. But, Smith’s has tons of other fun activities and seasonal produce options throughout the year – pumpkin picking, hayrides, and a millet maze.

You can also fish their pond. All you have to do is show up with your own equipment and bait, pay a $5 per person daily fee, and drop a line. Smith’s has 2 stocked ponds and restroom facilities. If you get tired of catching, you can always mosey on over to the produce stand for some ice-cream.

Smith’s asks that you catch and release and that you fish from the banks, no boats. If you’re a local or you’re going to be in the area for a while, yearly family passes are offered for $125 a year. For more information about Smith’s visit their website.

Remember your sunscreen and to stay hydrated while you’re having fun. For more information about things to do in Johnston County be sure to visit our website page as well.

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

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Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.

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Meeting Planners

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Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?

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Group Tour Operators

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Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.

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Hotel Packages

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We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.

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FREE TRAINING

 

Check out what other travelers say about Johnston County, North Carolina on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor
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