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The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.
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Ham & Yam Time Again

Ham & Yam Time Again


It's time for the Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival in Downtown Smithfield, scheduled for May 6th with a wealth of activities for the entire family.  For the complete schedule of events and all things Ham & Yam, visit the official visitor website for the festival, www.hamandyam.com.


Ham History


The Ham & Yam Festival is a celebration of the agricultural history of Johnston County. The area was once a rural farmland where ham producers and sweet potato growers made a living. Because of this, the focus of the festival remains food. Attendees can find many varieties of hams and yams at the festival – barbecue from the cook-off, country ham biscuits, sweet potato cheesecake pies, country ham pimento cheese, sweet potato smoothies, sweet potato lemonade, baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato funnel cake, and more! If you don’t know the history of the Ham & Yam festival you should read an older, but still relevant article, by Smithfield native Emily Wallace. You can access it here. If you do know the history of the Ham & Yam festival, then you know that this will be the 33rd year.

A lady doesn’t divulge her age, but I will say that the Ham & Yam Festival has been going on longer than I’ve been alive, which means the Ham & Yam festival has been a staple of my life as a Johnston County native. I can see in my interest and anticipation for the festival how I’ve aged over the years. As a child, my joy in attending the festival was an impending glee regarding what wonders I could persuade my mother to buy me: sand art, a princess ribbon crown, possibly something I could have monogramed. As an adult, I take pleasure in a slow perusal of the vendors, looking for locally-crafted things I could use in my house: oh, look, handmade kitchen towels… I’ll take 8, thanks. Growing up has some hard truths to it. Maybe this year I’ll buy a flowing, sparkly ribbon crown just to prove a point to myself.


Family Fun in the Triangle


Ham & Yam is also about arts and entertainment. There are craft vendors, as well as games and rides, a 5K race, a What’s That Yam Thing? Contest, pig races, and more. Three stages include performances throughout the day, including performances by Nantucket at 2:30 p.m. and The Ultimate Eagles Tribute – On The Border at 7:00 p.m.

See you soon in Downtown Smithfield! conveniently located near I-95 and Highway 70, just 30 minutes from downtown Raleigh.

 

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Looking Forward to Spring in JoCo

Looking Forward to Spring in JoCo

 

 

 

 

 

 


1. Picking strawberries. This activity is perfect for families with little ones. Johnston County has a few working farms that open their fields to pickers, or just show up and buy them pre-picked by the bucket. Click here for a list of berry farms and farmer's markets sure to have this sweet, red fruit.

 

2. With the weather turning warm and breezy, Spring is a great time to enjoy the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail. In the Spring months our family-owned, award-winning vineyards are green with grapes growing on the vine and waiting for the late Summer harvest. Sit on the porch and enjoy a chilled glass of wine and take home a bottle of your favorite. Don't forget that April is NC Beer Month. Johnston County's breweries will have special release beers and great weekend events happening in celebration. Visit the Beer, Wine, Shine Trail website to learn how to travel along the trail and then click on each trail location's website for more information on events and products.

 

3. For parents of young, energetic kids it's been a long winter of being cooped-up indoors due to the weather. Take the family outside to explore, play, and learn. The Neuse River also offers an excellent opportunity for canoers and kayakers. For a list of places in Johnston County to hike, bike, and play visit our Nature & Recreation page.




4. Explore Johnston County's Downtown areas. All of our historic downtowns are very walk-able with shops, restaurants, and museums. You never know what sort of unique treats your might find, like the Hills of Snow snow cone which is a local, seasonal favorite - opening in March. Spring also starts our festival season. You can learn more about all our events here.




 

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The Blueberries Taste Like Blueberries

The Blueberries Taste Like Blueberries

There is no doubt that Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a fantastical movie, especially for a child with a candy obsession. Who wouldn't want a garden make of sweets with a river of chocolate running through it? But, one of the more ludicrous scenes I remember is the lick-able wall paper. The thing is, I have a nurse for a mom, and even at a tender grade-school age I was clued-in to how germs worked. The lick-able wall paper scene was very unappealing to me. But, it gave us some gems in the form of quotes. Mainly, "the snozzberries taste like snozzberries" and "we are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams". And now that you all want to go watch Willy Wonka again to see those golden ticket winners experience the joys and horrors (let's be honest, parts of that movie are freaky) of the chocolate factory, I bring you to my point.

Berry season always reminds me of this snozzberry quote. Why? Well, if you've ever actually eaten a berry straight out of the field in-season then you know it's the best tasting berry you've ever had. The strawberries taste like strawberries. The blueberries taste like blueberries. It's a whole new level of berry experience - waiting patiently for a chance to have the best a fruit can offer you, from a field on a local farm. Knowing you can purchase it at the grocery store year-round is comforting. But it also somehow makes the berry picking season more important, more unique, and more precious.

Blueberry season is around the corner here in Johnston County. Both Smith's Nursery and Creekside Farm are here to offer you opportunities to pick and purchase berries in their "natural setting". As always, we've provided their information below so that you can contact them and plan peak picking time (say that ten times fast). In addition, we've provided more blueberry recipes for you to try this year with your soon to be bucket bursting with hand-picked blueberries. Please share with your friends and family. Be sure to post pictures on our Facebook of the finished product so we can experience blueberry envy.

Creekside Farm, LLC
300 Pine Tree Rd. Selma, NC 27576
T 919-965-9969 | creeksidefarmberries.com

Smith's Nursery
443 Sanders Rd. Benson, NC 27504
T 919-934-1700 | smithsnurseryinc.com

Blueberry Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting - these are perfect for a summer cookout. The recipe calls for yellow cake mix, which we can all admit to using when we're in a hurry. But, we challenge you to make the cupcake batter from scratch. You can do it! This is the South, where we quote Steel Magnolias and bless the heart of everyone... who uses store-bought batter. :)

Blueberry Lemonade - Nothing says summer like experimenting with different lemonade flavors. This is our favorite so far. The blueberry simple syrup is the perfect balance to the tart lemon juice.

Blueberry Goat Cheese Empanada - It's safe to say that empanadas are a lot like turnovers. You can really stuff anything in these babies and they'll be perfect, puffy, doughy clouds filled with delicious flavors. Goat cheese offers a rich, creamy addition to the sweet blueberry flavor in this amazing combo. Use the recipe to experiment with other stuffing options.

Good luck, and may the biggest bluest blueberries fall into your bucket!

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As Long As There Is You and Food

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?!

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.

Johnston County Hams
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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Family-owned Farm in Clayton Delivers Fear and Fun

Family-owned Farm in Clayton Delivers Fear and Fun

Boyette's Family Farms Inc. has farm fresh fun for the whole family and for all ages. Johnston County locals and visitors have been traveling to Clayton, NC to experience hayrides and haunted houses at Boyette's for many Autumns now. This year is no different.
Boyette Corn Maze
A recent conversation with owner Anna Boyette revealed all the things that the Clayton Fear Farm - Boyette's Halloween-esque business name for their Fall activities - has planned for the season, starting the first weekend in October, "The activities are split into daytime and nighttime with the more kid-friendly things taking place during the day. We have a pumpkin patch for kids to pick out their own pumpkin, a corn maze, and a hayride that transports you around the farm. In the evening, we have 7 spooky attractions." Not recommended for the faint of heart.

While there is no age restriction enforced at Clayton Fear Farm, Anna recommends the scarier stuff at night for 13 years old and up. That's not to say that the evening Fear Farm hours are for all adults. "We don't have a chicken refund," Anna says, mostly joking. Truthfully, she says that the fear factor of each part of the farm depends not on how scary Boyette's makes their haunted horror attractions, but how afraid you are of certain things. Clowns, zombies, ghosts, serial killers, darkness... you can pick your poison.
Fear Farm Slaughter House
A day time ticket gets you onto the farm for the day. Evening tickets can be purchased at $12 per attraction, or gain access to all 7 with a $25 all-inclusive tickets. You can learn more about all of Boyette's Fall activities by visiting their website; the site has links to the Facebook pages for each event the farm offers - the daytime and evening Fear Farm events have separate pages.

On October 10th, Boyette's will be having a Fall Festival complete with tractors for kids to explore and learn about. The Fall Festival would be an excellent time to explore the corn maze - don't worry, it's not haunted during the day.

Anna mentioned that the vineyards side of the Boyette operation is no longer offering pick-your-own or selling grapes to the public. However, Lights on the Neuse will still be happening this year starting the day after Thanksgiving and going through Christmas Eve. Lights on the Neuse includes beautiful holiday light extravaganza hayride, meeting Santa, and even cookie decorating.

It's a farm full of fun at Boyette's this time of year. Check it out for yourself. And for more holiday events in the area, visit www.johnstoncountyevents.com.

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Bursting with Blueberries

Bursting with Blueberries

Bursting with Blueberries

Blueberries are a versatile fruit. You can pop them into your mouth like popcorn, bake them into anything, simmer them down to a condiment, or even freeze them for an extra refreshing kick on those hot summer days. But did you know blueberries are also great for your health. Blueberries are low in fat and high in vitamin c, dietary fiber, and manganese (great for bone health). What's more, blueberries are currently being studied medically in relation to heart and brain health as well as insulin response and cancer research (source). There's some serious power in this petite fruit!

berry healthy

Pick Your Own Blueberries


The same pickin' principles that apply to strawberries must apply to blueberries. Concoctions made of blueberries picked with your own hands just taste better. That's a fact. It's farm to table freshness and personal satisfaction you just can't replicate any other way. Or maybe that's the homemade whipped cream on top we're tasting!

Below are two places in Johnston County where you can pick your own blueberries. Be sure to check out their websites to see what else is happening on the farm. Creekside Farm offers pick your own or packaged berries. In addition they offer blueberry honey, made by their bees, as well as
syrup, vinaigrette dressing, salsa, juice, cider, and jam. Smith's Nursery offers pick your own as well as fishing, farm animals, and other fun activities for the kids.

Creekside Farm, LLC
300 Pine Tree Rd. Selma, NC 27576
T 919-965-9969 | creeksidefarmberries.com

Smith's Nursery
443 Sanders Rd. Benson, NC 27504
T 919-934-1700 | smithsnurseryinc.com


Red, White, and Blueberry

blueberry recipes

It cannot be a coincidence that both strawberry and blueberry season fall so close to the Fourth of July. Can there be a more patriotic fruit pairing? Certainly not one that goes so berry well together in summer recipes. From cakes to crisps, pies to pastries, sauces to salsas, jams to juices... we've discovered that, in the south, there's no wrong way to eat a berry. Much like our blog on strawberries we have provided a unique compilation of blueberry recipes to be tried in your kitchen this weekend. As always we welcome comments and pictures of how your blueberry baking attempts turned out... delicious, we bet!

Lemon Blueberry Marble Cake

Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes

Blueberry Banana Muffins

Blueberry Smoothie

Blueberry Crisp

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From Haunted Hay Rides to Vineyard Tours - The Past and Future of Agritourism in JoCo

From Haunted Hay Rides to Vineyard Tours - The Past and Future of Agritourism in JoCo


According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, "Agritourism is activity that incorporates tourism and agriculture by bringing individuals to farms, ranches, vineyards, and other agricultural enterprises.  Agritourism helps to educate the public and often generates income for farmers and agriculturalists.  There are many types of agritourism enterprises, including pick-your-own farms, agriculture museums, corn mazes, hay rides, winery tours, barnyard animals, etc."


Due to Johnston County's rich heritage associated with the land, this may not be the first time you have heard of or experienced agritourism. Many land owners who open their farms, ranches, and vineyards to the public do so in the name of education. With so much of the media dictating what we think we know about our food, agritourism allows farmers the opportunity to be more transparent about how our food and beverages are produced - from seed to store and from farm to table. Not to mention how fun agritourism is - picking your own blueberries, selecting a pumpkin to carve, tasting wine while exploring the vineyard the grapes were grown in, experiencing a southern sunset over a corn field.

But for tourists and locals like you, yes you, to enjoy picking fresh strawberries straight from the field, haunted hay rides, and adventurous corn mazes, farmers must first learn how to go about opening their land to you. Because of this need for education, Johnston County has previously offered workshops on agritourism with the hope of assisting local farmers who may be seeking ways to utilize their land and equipment to serve tourists. Thanks to these previous agritourism classes, many of which took place 10 years ago, right here in Johnston County there exists all types of agritourism options for visitors and locals. Families who owned farms like the Boyette's, the Thompsons, and the Browns utilized knowledge gained from attending the classes to set the foundation for agritourism in the county.

On that foundation exists old and new local businesses that have only grown with the consumer demand for farm to table experiences. Current trends show increased interest in agritourism surrounding the beer and wine market. Not just nationally, but right here in Johnston County. Wehave 4 wineries, 2 breweries, and 1 moonshine distillery where visitors can learn about the local ingredients that go into the beverages they get to enjoy in the tasting rooms.

One local farmer, Caroline Hines, stated both the benefits and obstacles that agricultural enterprises face when entering into and remaining profitable in agritourism. She has a family-owned farm outside of Micro called Hines Farm. They grow tobacco mostly and have not expanded into agritourism, but Hines is one example of the farmers that exist in the newest generation of agricultural professionals considering the opportunities and particulars involved in agritourism. According to Hines one of the most important aspects, and often the most baffling to farmers, is marketing and branding. She continued, "agritourism takes people visiting your operation and that takes branding your farm as a place people want to go. With most conventional farms you have a product and you sell it and that's it. You don't have to market your crops."


b2ap3_thumbnail_048.JPG
Project Skill-UP 2015 hopes to provide the opportunity for a new generation of local farmers to train for agritourism. The program hopes to provide the most current information on all aspects of agritourism for the counties farmers, vintners, brewers, and distillers. The classes are made possible by the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, Cooperative Extension, and the JCC Small Business Center.

The project will consist of 3 free seminars and a tour of local successful agritourism businesses:

  • March 24th - Agritourism: Then and Now - 7:00 PM

  • April 28th - Farm to Table - 7:00 PM

  • September 22nd - Agritourism Trails and Marketing - 7:00 PM

  • October 27th - Agri-Business Tour - Time TBD


Training topics include defining agritourism, how to be profitable, and how to market an agritourism venture. In addition, the seminars will cover the logistics involved in operation including insurance and preparing a farm for visitors. All events are free (with the exception of the tour lunch charge) thanks to a grant from the NC Tobacco Fund Commission and will be held in the Lampe Meeting Room, N Third St, Smithfield. To register, contact Rose Andrews at 919-209-2594 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Summer Time Inspires Backyard Farmers

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 as the spring and summer crops are being harvested which starts with sweet strawberries in April.  By the time July rolls around, the bounty is rich and plentiful with corn, peaches, okra, blueberries 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 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 and 701 Farmer's 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, we hope you try some of the recipes we will be posting up this month 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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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

beer wine and shine trail logo

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

meeting venue with presentation screen

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

girl with camera in travel group

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

hotel bed and pillow with johnston county logo

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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