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

Day Tripping Ideas - FALL in Johnston County

Day Tripping Ideas - FALL in Johnston County

We all live very busy lives and just keeping the family organized, the house cleaned, the kids to practice or dance, and a hundred other things that fill up our day -- it all can be overwhelming.  That's why when you think about entertainment, outings with the children or family visiting for the weekend, we suggest you rely on your local Convention & Visitors Bureau for ideas, deals, and suggested itineraries.  That's what we spend our days doing to help visitors, local residents, and day trippers.  If you live within an hour's drive of Johnston County, we have several ideas for day trips for you to consider.

Fall is all about Festivals!

Benson Mule DaysIt's fall and that means football, fall leaves, the State Fair, and a host of festivals throughout North Carolina.  Johnston County has a long history of agricultural related venues and events with several festivals to choose from, the Clayton Harvest Festival is held the third weekend of September, the Farm Fest concert brings country music's best to Selma the first weekend in October.  Spend that Saturday strolling the streets of Selma's Railroad Festival and the evening singing along with your favorite country star. 

If you have done the State Fair year after year, and want to try a smaller version (less people, better parking), the Benson Mule Days Festival is as close to a county fair that Johnston County has to offer.  They have the midway with games, fair food, and vendors, as well as, carnival rides, concerts, parades, and rodeos.  Get the full details on their website, www.bensonmuledays.com  For a day trip, we suggest coming Saturday for the full experience...the parade, free Bluegrass in the Grove, carnival rides and BBQ by White Swan BBQ.

Like to get out on the farm for some pumpkin pickin', corn mazes, and grape stomping?  Visit the Boyette Family Farm near Clayton, or schedule a visit to the Lazy O Farm or Smith's Farm near Smithfield, or for something different, our wineries offer events in the fall, like the Grape Stomp at Gregory Vineyards or the Harvest Ball at Hinnants Family Vineyard and Winery.

Holiday time is for Outlet Shopping and Christmas Music!

AMJ Christmas ShowStarting in early November the traffic at Carolina Premium Outlet increases as we all start working checking off items on our Christmas List...check the deals we find at the outlets, including JR Outlets in Selma too!  Sign up for the VIP Club with Carolina Premium Outlets and get emails on special events and sales.  A day trip for shopping works any time of the year or if you need to get away, our Girlfriends Getaway package offers deals on hotels, area attractions, and is great for a weekend with your BFF. 

For some family fun, the American Music Jubilee Theatre is perfect for all generations.  This musical variety show for the Holidays begins the first week of November and runs through the week of Christmas.  It's fun and will keep everyone in the holiday spirit -- add a visit to an area restaurant for the family, or if you have a church group that loves to get out for a day trip...this a very popular trip.  Dates and tickets are available on their website, www.amjubilee.com

Love to explore the arts in Johnston County?

The Clayton CenterJust within the Triangle area, there are hundreds of options for art museums, concerts, art shows and more...but Johnston County has much to offer too!  There are three performing arts auditoriums with regular season shows, The Clayton Center, the Paul A. Johnston Auditorium and the W.J. Barefoot Auditorium.  Visitors will find local talent providing theatre productions to national acts touring the country.  Dinner and the theatre in our neck of the woods is very affordable compared to prices in the Triangle -- and just as much fun!  Check out the event calendar on our website for the most up to date concerts and art show schedules.

For a touch of Hollywood, visitors that love the Golden Age will enjoy a day visit to the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield which houses a vast collection of movie memorabilia on local girl, Ava Gardner.  Walk the streets of this historic downtown, enjoy lunch at an area restaurant, walk along the Buffalo Creek Greenway.  Check out what's happening at the museum, www.avagardner.org

For the details on times, themes, and contacts for several Day Trip Ideas for Johnston County, CLICK HERE.  Check our events calendar often for something new to do in Johnston County!







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The Hottest Tickets In Town Go On Sale Monday At The Clayton Center

The Hottest Tickets In Town Go On Sale Monday At The Clayton Center

Audiences To Enjoy Fun Favorites and Welcome New Faces to Local Stage

Single tickets to performances in The Clayton Center’s 2014-15 performing arts season go on sale Monday, Aug. 25, at 10 am.  The Palladian Series opens on Friday, Oct. 17, with the irreverent and irrepressible political satire of The Capitol Steps. A Clayton favorite, the Capitol Steps return with their newest production How To Succeed In Congress Without Really Lying. Tickets are $35.

Groucho MarxOn Saturday, Nov. 1, The Clayton Center presents An Evening With Groucho, featuring award-winning actor, director and playwright Frank Ferrante. Ferrante recreates his PBS, New York and London acclaimed portrayal of legendary comedian Groucho Marx in this fast paced 90 minutes of hilarity. Tickets are $25.

The Palladian Series continues on Saturday, Dec. 6, with Riders In The Sky, and Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, with the Grande Dame of storytelling, Jeanne Robertson. Tickets are $28 and $30, respectively.

The Center heads into spring of 2015 with Yesterday & Today: The Interactive Beatles’ Experience on Friday, March 20.  Tickets to this all-request concert are $25. The final show of the Palladian Series features the music of Jeremy Davis & The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra on Saturday, April 11. Tickets for this show are $30.

The Clayton Center also will present native sons The Malpass Brothers, who hail from Goldsboro, NC, in a special event on Saturday, Feb. 7. Fans can see these incredibly talented musicians for just $20 per ticket.

Information on purchasing tickets

All events presented by The Clayton Center begin at 8 pm. For ticket prices and for more information on these shows, contact the Clayton Center box office by phone at 919-553-1737, or visit theclaytoncenter.com online. The Clayton Center is located at 111 E. Second St. in historic downtown Clayton. Box office hours are 10 am until noon and from 1 until 5 pm Monday through Friday.

Other popular artists presented in past seasons at The Clayton Center include Kathy Mattea, Dianne Reeves, Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Winter, Jesse Cook, Doc Watson, Eileen Ivers, Tommy Emmanuel, Colin Hay, the Harlem Gospel Choir and David Sedaris.

Jean Robertson video -- she is so funny....please don't miss her at The Clayton Center.


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Meet Project Runway's Designer Justin LeBlanc at the Ava Gardner Festival Oct. 4th

Ava Gardner Museum celebrates Ava as a fashion icon with new exhibits and special guest Justin LeBlanc.

Each year the Ava Gardner Museum celebrates the opening of the permanent home for the museum in Downtown Smithfield.  This year’s festival will showcase new exhibits on the legacy of Ava Gardner's fashion style with the opening of the "Ava's Closet" exhibit with music, films, fashion, food and local designer, Justin LeBlanc.   To connect to the fashion industry in North Carolina, festival organizers invited Project Runway's Justin LeBlanc to attend the event.  Justin will be at the festival Saturday, October 4, from 9-11am to host a talk on his signature 3D printing process for fabrics and to discuss his fashion line with visitors to the museum.

 “We are thrill to have Justin LeBlanc visit this year's festival, we are big fans of his work," said Deanna Brandenberger, Museum Director, “Ava's popularity and influence on today's designers like Justin remains strong and we wanted to contrast modern design with the Golden Age of Hollywood's designs worn by Ava.  It was clear he was well-liked as a contestant on Project Runway, and we feel visitors will enjoy meeting him."

Justin LeBlanc DesignJustin’s 2014 Spring/Summer collection shown in New York was entitled “Sound Waves.” It reflected his journey from deafness, represented by pure and simple white garments, to the chaos of sound, represented by garments accentuated with depictions of sound waves, random splashes of white, and elaborate 3-D printed belts, to his ultimate reconciliation with sound, dramatically depicted by a Gown made from Pipette Tips that sounded like rain as the model walked.  Justin will be bringing this piece to the museum and visitors will have a chance to see this gown and learn more about the process of constructing this one-of-a-kind design.

Justin has a degree in Architecture from North Carolina State University where he was a Caldwell Fellow. Towards the end of his architecture studies Justin developed his passion for fashion design during his participation in NCSU’s annual Art2Wear competition.  Following his graduation from NCSU Justin attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he received a Master of Design in Fashion, Body, and Garment in 2012. While a student at the Art Institute, Mr. LeBlanc interned in London at Alexander McQueen’s fashion studio. He was mentored by Nick Cave, a design professor at the Art Institute and a celebrated fabric sculptor.  Justin currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina where he is an assistant professor at North Carolina State University in the College of Design.  Justin also is actively involved in fashion design and he is a frequent guest speaker and volunteers his time for various charitable causes. 

To make the weekend's event a complete package individuals may purchase passes to all events for $75.00 which includes the Friday night Fashion Fling reception, admission to the museum Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Saturday night Clayton Piano Festival and one heritage tour on Saturday.  Advanced reservations required by September 26 to schedule the package. 

For more information about the festival and to purchase the "Ava's Closet" Festival Package, please call the museum at 919-934-5830.  The Ava Gardner Museum is located in downtown Smithfield, at 325 E. Market Street and more information may be found on the museum website, www.avagardner.org.  The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm and Sunday 2pm-5pm with admission of $8.00 adults, $7.00 seniors and groups and $6.00 children.

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Wine Trail Expands in Johnston County

Wine Trail Expands in Johnston County

After three years and over 1,000 people completing the Muscadine Heritage Wine Trail, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau has expanded the trail to include two new breweries and a distillery in the county.  In 2013, Deep River Brewing and Double Barley Brewing opened in Clayton and Smithfield as the first craft beer brewing companies in the county.  Also in 2013, Gregory Vineyards began distilling moonshine to blend into their wines creating a fortified brandy, which is available for tasting in their winery.

 "With the new breweries and "legal" shine now available in Johnston County, we wanted to expand the trail with these new experiences and tastings," stated Donna Bailey-Taylor, Executive Director, "the new trail has more relaxed requirements and visitors will receive coupons worth $30.00 to use on return trips to the winery or brewery they loved best."

Muscadine GrapesVisitors along the trail need only receive a stamp on their visit and are not required to purchase product as required before on the Muscadine Heritage Wine Trail.  The wineries and breweries agreed that the main intent of the trail is to give the visitor a good experience, and gain a customer for the long term.  After collecting six stamps, visitors will receive a 4 x 9 rack card with $5.00 coupons good at each location on the trail.  Participating venues are Adams Winery, Enoch Winery, Deep River Brewing, Double Barley Brewing, Hinnants Winery and Gregory Winery.  Also listed on the trail for pick-your-own muscadine grapes is Myrick Vineyards near Selma, who has plans to open a winery in 2015.

Brochures promoting the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail are available at area attractions, NC Welcome Centers and may be downloaded on the new website, www.beerwineshinetrail.com.  "We encourage visitors to check back often to see what events are being planned at the wineries which host grape stomps, art and wine events, murder mystery dinners and pick-your-own grape seasons.  The breweries also have special events, live music, food trucks, corn hole tournaments and more.

Wine and craft beer enthusiasts can join our Trail Email list for announcements of special events and news from the members of the trail, and enter to win a FREE custom designed Mason Jar.  Drawings are held monthly and winners will receive the prize by mail.

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Clayton Piano Festival to Capture the Magic of Classical Music

Clayton Piano Festival to Capture the Magic of Classical Music

Ava Singing in Show BoatThe 4th Annual Clayton Piano Festival is scheduled for September 29 - October 10 at The Clayton Center Auditorium in Historic Downtown Clayton in addition to workshops held in area schools.  This year's festival will kick-off with a collaboration with the Ava Gardner Festival featuring iconic classical music from the movies including a segment on another local star, Ava Gardner.  Three more themed performances will be billed as; The inspiration of the church on western music, A celebration of women composers, which will be at The Wagner House and Classical music with a popular twist.

Home-town classical musician, Jonathan Levin began the festival in 2010 to give back to the community where he was raised, and in the venue where at age eight he performed his first recital.  "As many may know, I grew up in the Clayton area and it was here that my musical education began as well.  Clayton Piano Festival (CPF) is my way of giving back to a community which gave much to me and to share my love and enthusiasm for great music with as many people as possible," stated Jonathan Levin, founder of the festival. "Live performance is a vital part of this art form – when a performer is up there on stage tapping in to whatever wizardry the composer may have conjured up and the audience is able to relate and connect with that, there is a shared experience that occurs which is nothing short of magical.  And that is the mission of CPF – to create magic!"

On Saturday, October 4th, emcee Bryan Mims, WRAL news reporter, will lead the conversation about the piano pieces beginning at 7pm.  Following the concert there will be a coffee and dessert reception to meet the artist Azamat Sydykov.  This concert collaboration between the Clayton Piano Festival and the Ava Gardner Museum will interest fans and visitors coming to the Ava Gardner Festival which runs the entire weekend.  Fans of movies and fans of Ava's can enjoy a touch of artistry from her life.  During the hour long performance, the interlude featuring Ava Gardner will showcase songs from Show Boat and Ava's live-long fascination with flamenco music.  Tickets for the Saturday night concert are $20.00+ taxes and fees, and are available for purchase online at www.theclaytoncenter.com or by calling the Clayton Center Box Office, 919-553-3152.

Clayton Piano FestivalAzamat Sydakov, who recently performed at Carnegie Hall will be the featured pianist on Saturday, October 4th.  Sydykov was born into a musical family in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyz Republic, a former Republic of the Soviet Union and now resides in Kazakhstan.  A Member of the International Academy of Creative Endeavors (Moscow, 2009),  Sydykov has been the recipient of many awards and prizes including First Prize in five national music competitions in Kyrgyz Republic, First Prize at the “Musician of the 21st Century” International Piano Competition in Kazakhstan and the Grand Prize at the “EUTERPE” International Piano Competition in Italy in 2009.

It is the mission of CPF to bring outstanding concert pianists from throughout the country to the Clayton area in order to perform concerts and participate in other musically enriching events throughout the community. Through interactive presentations in local schools, public classes for local piano students, and commentary with the concert performances, CPF aims to bridge the gap between performer and audience, bringing great music to people of all ages and levels of exposure to classical music and the arts.

The Clayton Piano Festival list of performances and seminars, times and ticket info:

Sept. 29 – Oct. 3                 Educational Outreach Performances at local elementary schools.
Oct. 4                                 "Movie Tunes: Iconic classical music from the movies." - The Clayton Center,  Azamat Sydykov, 7pm. Tickets $20
Oct. 5                                 "Sanctuary: the inspiration of the church on western music."  -  The Clayton Center, Jonathan Levin, 3pm. Tickets $12/$8
Oct. 7                                 "In Her Shoes: A celebration of women composers." - The Wagner House, Clayton,  Julia Mortyakova, 7pm.  Tickets $20
Oct. 8-10                            Young Artist Seminar – classes and events for local piano students. (location and Schedule TBD)                                              
Oct. 10                               "From Brooklyn to Havana: classical music with a popular twist."  The Clayton Center, Milton Laufer, 7pm. Tickets $12/$8

The Clayton Piano Festival is supported by grants, donations, and tickets sales. Concerts are general seating admission with some reserved seats for Ava Gardner Festival sponsors only on October 4.  More information can be found on their website, www.claytonpianofestival.org or Ava Gardner Festival on www.avagardner.org.

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301 Endless Yard Sale A Huge Success

301 Endless Yard Sale A Huge Success

The organizing committee of the 301 Endless Yard Sale met July 17 to gather feedback from the communities involved and to review vendor survey results.  With mostly positive feedback from all involved, the committee has set the dates of June 19-20, 2015 for next year's event.

"Overall the biggest complaint was the hot weather, obviously, something the committee cannot control and some traffic concerns, wishes for more parking, and calls to hold the event twice a year (Spring and Fall)," stated Donna Bailey-Taylor, Executive Director, Johnston County Visitors Bureau.

Results of the Vendor Survey

The committee reviewed the online vendor survey results and key points noted by the committee were:

•    35% of  vendors heard about the event from WRAL, followed by 30% website, 30% Facebook, 22% by postcard/brochure, 19% by Classified Ads.  
•    76% of vendors sold on both days.  
•    Average sales were about $500 each day.  
•    Vendor fees varied from free, donations, up to $75 per day.  
•    81% of vendors found their spot because they knew the property owner.  
•    79% of vendors sold yard sale items, 48% collectibles and 38% antiques.
•    83% of vendors plan to come back next year.  
•    50% of vendors surveyed said to leave it a Friday-Saturday event.

301 Endless Yard SaleThe committee discussed the feedback from people complaining about too many commercial vendors and that they wanted just “Yard Sale” items and pricing.  The committee discussed that what the vendor sells is not regulated and there were lots of "junking" vendors, as well as, antiques and collectibles, yard sale items, and then the unique items like golf carts, boats, motorcycles, and businesses that pulled warehouses of merchandise out for sale.  "The 301 Endless Yard Sale is all about the hunt, you never know what you will come across.  It may be high end antiques or the thrifty household items, " stated event founder Tommy Abdalla. Next year the committee can include a tagline that specifies,  "you’ll find anything and everything along the 301 Endless Yard Sale".

Discussion was had about moving the event date and the committee felt this year the weekend was unusually hot for June.  If the event was moved to the spring or fall, there were many conflicts with other major festivals held in the destinations, sporting events, football weekends, and the state fair.  The committee decided there are benefits to having the consistency and agreed to keep the event the third weekend in June, which will be June 19-20.  

Overall marketing expenses and ROI

The four Visitors Bureaus involved split the cost of the brochures, classified ads, and each community purchased banners.  Halifax and Johnston placed some local ads and worked with area radio stations for promotion.  And the JCVB invested some promotional dollars on Facebook, which increased from 300 likes to 5,300 likes since last year's event.  With the promotion on WRAL, the www.301endlessyard.com again exceeded bandwidth with over  75,000 page views in June.   Each CVB averaged $1,000 to market the event.

Although hard numbers from hotels is not available on the number of room nights, each destination reported hotels saw overnight stays.  The Facebook map set up to track where vendors and visitors were coming from indicated some of the feeder states for this event were: NC, VA, SC, FL, AL, OH, PA, MA, TX, MD and CO.

Expanding the 301 Endless Yard Sale from Roanoke Rapids to Lumberton
The goal for 2015 is to expand the sale to include the counties of Nash, Cumberland and Robeson Counties.  The committee has agreed not to have gaps next year as it causes too much confusion for vendors and visitors.  Planning meetings will begin in January and will be held in Smithfield at the Johnston County Visitors Bureau conference room.  For more information and to keep connected, visit the website, www.301endlessyardsale.com or follow the event on www.facebook.com/301endlessyardsale.

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Ava Gardner Festival -- opens "Ava's Closet"

Ava Gardner Festival -- opens "Ava's Closet"

Join us in historic downtown Smithfield for the 10th Annual Ava Gardner Festival, October 3-5.  Ava went to Hollywood in 1941, a beauty from North Carolina with her college threads and saddle oxford shoes, but just a few years later she graced hundreds of magazine covers, played on-screen sirens, and was coined one of the world’s most beautiful women.

Schedule of Events for the Ava Gardner Festival

Ava Gardner FestivalFriday, October 3

Ava’s Closet Exhibit opens with a Fashion Fling reception with Sinatra-style entertainment by the Carolina Crooner, hors d’ oeuvres and beverages will provide the “fling” for the evening.  Ticket prices are $25.00 per person and the event is the museum’s annual fundraiser.

Saturday, October 4

Festival goers will enjoy the new exhibits, Heritage Tours, and FREE movie screenings of  The Killers and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean showing at 10am and 2pm respectively.  This year’s movies are a tribute to John Huston, Ava’s dear friend and famed director. All day admission is $8 for all ages.

Justin LeBlancMeet special guest, Justin LeBlanc, season 12 Project Runway finalist and local designer from Raleigh who will speak about 3D print design and fashion with visitors to the museum.  Justin will be at the museum Saturday, Oct. 4 from 9-11am.

Heritage tours on Saturday October 4th will be held throughout the day beginning at 9am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 3:30pm. The guided tour will take visitors to Ava’s birthplace, to the Brogden Teacherage where she grew up, and to her gravesite at Sunset Memorial Park. Tours are $15.00 per person.


Clayton Piano FestivalOn Saturday, Oct. 4, the museum has partnered with the Clayton Piano Festival whose theme this year is classical music from the movies. The festival organizers are working with renowned artist and Clayton native, Jonathan Levin to pay tribute to Ava Gardner with a song from Show Boat and a selection of other musical influenced by Ava's love of flamenco music. The festival will be held at The Clayton Center and begins at 7pm. Coffee and desserts will be served after the concert with a meet and greet with Azamat Sydakov, the featured pianist. Tickets are $20.00 per person plus fees/taxes and are available online at www.theclaytoncenter.com.

 Sunday, October 5

Another tribute to John Huston, The African Queen will run on Sunday at 3pm.

Get a deal with the Ava's Closet Festival Package

Ava Gardner Festival Package includes admission to all events for the weekend, and is available for $75.00 online, CLICK HERE to purchase.

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Clayton River Walk: A little bit country, a little bit art

Clayton River Walk: A little bit country, a little bit art

Living in Johnston County means we have ample opportunity to explore the great outdoors. Whether playing at a local park, kayaking on the river, or reliving history at Bentonville Battlegrounds, we've certainly got options. Our favorite outdoor adventure, though, is the Clayton River Walk on the Neuse. The trail is part of the Mountain-to-Sea trail of North Carolina, and because it's paved, everyone can enjoy it. 

Sam's Branch Greenway at the Clayton River Walk

Connected to the River Walk is Sam's Branch Greenway, which is equally maintained. Sam's Branch Greenway is 1.25 miles long (2.5 miles round trip), providing a 10-foot-wide paved trail, a butterfly art project and an accessible picnic area. We like Sam's Branch Greenway because of its gently rolling pathway -- bikes can soar down the "hill" but it's not too long to pedal up in the opposite direction. We also like the ever-changing landscape from season to season. Of course, it's at its best in October when trees display gold and red foliage, the field grasses wave a toasty brown and the grass is still green.

Nature and art come together at the Clayton River Walk

Beyond the natural beauty of this country trail along the Neuse, the public art display along the bridge by the butterfly park offers changing exhibits throughout the year. We ventured out early one morning this week (trying to beat the heat), to see the newest display, just installed in May. The new installation, Whimsical Birds, is sponsored in part by a grant from the Johnston County Arts Council to promote art projects on the trail. This art was created by local students from Clayton High School, Clayton Middle School, Cooper and Powhatan Elementary Schools. 

When we rounded a bend in the trail to reveal the bridge, my daughter instantly responded with a loud, "Oooooh!" as she ran ahead to look at all the birds on the bridge. My son, the dog and I (we will blame the heat), took a bit longer to arrive at the bridge. Still, broad smiles spread across our faces as we took in the colorful display. 


Clayton River Walk: Know before you go

 Three parking areas offer easy access to the Clayton River Walk:

  • 2928 Horseshoe Farm Road (2928 Horseshoe Farm Road)
  • Buffaloe Road Athletic Park (5812 Buffaloe Road)
  • Anderson Point Park (20 Anderson Point Drive)

The address to park at Sam's Branch Greenway trailhead (about 1 mile from the butterfly and art exhibit) is 1358 N. O'Neil Street, Clayton, NC. 

Drinking fountains and restrooms are available at the Buffaloe Road Athletic Park and Anderson Point Park. Doggie bags and garbage cans are located along the trail for the benefit of all guests.

 Please note:

  • Pets must be leashed
  • No motorized vehicles are allowed
  • Bicyclists are welcome!
  • Bring water bottles and sunscreen
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes!





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Blueberries and Summer Fun

In terms of U.S. fruit consumption, blueberries rank only second to strawberries in popularity. Blueberries are repeatedly ranked in the U.S. diet as having one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits, vegetables, spices and seasonings. And they taste so good in our recipes!

History of Blueberries

Blueberries hold a special place in the foods of North America, since more species of blueberries are native to North America than any other continent. To this day, the United States cultivates and supplies over half of all blueberries in the world. Among the 275 million pounds of blueberries grown in the U.S., Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, and North Carolina are states most heavily involved in blueberry farming. Because of its special interest in lowbush blueberries, the state of Maine is actually the largest lowbush blueberry producer in the world.

How to Select and Store Berries

Choose blueberries that are firm and have a lively, uniform hue colored with a whitish bloom. Shake the container, noticing whether the berries have the tendency to move freely; if they do not, this may indicate that they are soft and damaged or moldy. Avoid berries that appear dull in color or are soft and watery in texture.  

Before storing remove any crushed or moldy berries to prevent the rest from spoiling. Don't wash berries until right before eating as washing will remove the bloom that protects the berries' skins from degradation. Store ripe blueberries in a covered container in the refrigerator where they will keep for up to 3 days. If kept out at room temperature for more than a day, the berries may spoil.

Ripe berries can also be frozen, although this will slightly change their texture and flavor. Before freezing, wash, drain and remove any damaged berries. To better ensure uniform texture upon thawing, spread the berries out on a cookie sheet or baking pan, place in the freezer until frozen, then put the berries in a plastic bag for storage in the freezer.

Where to find blueberries in Johnston County at markets or pick-your-own farms:

Creekside Farm
300 Pine Tree Road, Selma

Smith's Nursery
443 Sanders Rd., Benson

L & G Farms
6536 Meadowbrook Rd., Benson

Thompson Orchards
4301 US Hwy 701 S., Four Oaks

Lee's Produce
401 W. Main St., Clayton

Clayton Farm and Community Market
439 E. Main St., Clayton


Blueberry Cobbler


    1 bag (1 pound) frozen blueberries (about 3- ½ cups)
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    ¾ cup turbinado (raw) sugar or granulated sugar, divided
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    ½ cup milk
    3 tablespoons butter, melted
    ¾ cup boiling water


    Preheat oven to 350°F
    Spread blueberries in ungreased 8 or 9-inch square baking dish or pan
    Sprinkle with cornstarch
    Drizzle with lemon juice
    Set aside
    In medium bowl combine flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder and salt
    Add milk and butter
    Stir just until combined (not smooth)
    Drop mounds of dough onto blueberries
    Pour boiling water over dough and fruit
    Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup sugar
    Bake until biscuits are golden brown and blueberries are bubbly, 45 to 50 minutes
    Serve warm or at room temperature

Number of servings (yield): 8

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Chick-Fil-A 3 Little Pigs Triathlon - A Big Draw to Smithfield

We have heard from visitors that traveled to Smithfield to run in the 3 Little Pigs Triathlon, traveling here from all over the state and beyond -- "We just had to see what a "3 Little Pigs" race was all about".  Sometimes in event planning....the name is the most important thing of all.

The Chick-Fil-A 3 Little Pigs Triathlon will be held in Smithfield, on Saturday, June 14, 2014. The event will begin at 7:30am and include a 250-yard pool swim, 14-mile bike race, and 3.1 mile run.  The event will begin at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center (SRAC) at 600 Booker Dairy Road. The swim will take place at the SRAC pool; the bike course will be from the SRAC parking lot into rural Johnston County on a scenic but mostly flat course; and the run course is an out-and-back course around Smithfield’s community park, and down and back on the new Buffalo Creek Greenway which runs along the Neuse River.

Family activities will also be available including the SRAC splash pool, a misting tent, face painting and the playground at the finish line.  Chick-Fil-A of Smithfield is the title sponsor for the event and proceeds will benefit the Friends of the Park and The Rotary Club of Central Johnston County.

Organizers are excited about the response for the 3 Little Pigs Triathlon as they expect more than 500 participants.  The event is family oriented providing activities for children at the Aquatic Center as family members complete the race.  Last year over $17,000 was raised and funds go directly back into the community through Friends of the Park and the Rotary Club of Central Johnston County. It’s a great time for the participants and their families.  Participants receive a t-shirt and a Chick-Fil-A chicken wrap as part of the event.

Registration information may be found here:

    • The last day to register online for the 3 Little Pigs Sprint Triathlon is Tuesday, June 10, 2014. On-site registration may be available if this event is not full, but your best bet is to register online.
    • Until May 4, cost is $45 for individuals; $80 for relays.




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100 Mile Yard Sale with 500+ Vendors

Tobacco Basket for SaleLess than 30 days from now on June 20th, the 301 Endless Yard Sale (100-miles) will open and will become the largest yard sale in North Carolina history. What started as an idea from retailer Tommy Abdalla and Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver has morphed into a multi-county event that grows every day.  New vendor locations are added each day and families, churches and non-profits join in the excitement to host this event.

Patterned after several existing yard sales, like the World's Longest Yard Sale held in August each year running from Michigan to Alabama along highway 127, we have goals for our sale to expand to the state's borders within the next two years.  We have since discovered more than ten sales that join communities together with this favorite pass-time -- yard-sales or junking!  One of our favorite names of area sales is the Peaches to the Beaches Yard Sale down in Georgia...the name alone is just fun!  It's not a new idea and we didn't "invent" this wheel, we are just riding the wave with thousands of yard sale enthusiasts.

Planning is the key!

Our 301 Endless Yard Sale planning committee has been meeting since January with representatives from Roanoke Rapids, Wilson, Johnston County towns along US 301 and Dunn.  Each month we find more and more businesses that want to be a part of the event, restaurants are gearing up for massive sales, and hotels are offering special rates for visitors traveling here to either bring  their treasures for sale....or treasure hunters headed here to see if they can do the entire 100-mile stretch.  Brochures have been distributed, classified ads are running, banners have been printed -- everything is moving towards a huge turn out!

We have had inquiries from the media -- just how many vendors will you have along US HWY 301?  How many people attended last year -- and how many do you expect this year?  Great questions.

Last year just in Johnston County, we estimated more than 150 vendors and the number of participants was in the 1000s.  The highway was literally bumper to bumper for two days.  So this year we are encouraging more parking at vendor locations to move vehicles off the highway and are letting local law enforcement/EMS and service businesses to route their deliveries along I-95 and not US Highway 301.

Survey for vendor and visitor feedback

With four counties and 100 miles of yard sale -- this year we estimate 500+ vendors and many other family yard sales setting up on their own.  As far as the number of yard sale shoppers we hope for four times the numbers from last year, so expect 20,000 shoppers to be along the highway from Roanoke Rapids to Dunn.  This year, we will be conducting surveys with our vendors and for visitor feedback to learn more information like:

    • How far did you travel to the sale?  City, State demographic information.
    • Expenditure and sales information.
    • Did you stay in a local hotel, campground, or stay with friends and family?
    • What would you suggest to the organizers of the event to make it better?

Look for some fun social media contests during the event with Facebook posts for the best "buy" during the Yard Sale, with prizes from the destinations for winners.  This event is coordinated by the local Convention & Visitors Bureaus in Halifax, Wilson, Johnston and Harnett Counties with several town officials to provide services like signage, vendor coordination, and special event permits.

A special thanks to everyone that makes this event happen -- just a few more weeks to go!!!!



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Trent Lassiter- JoCo's Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

Trent Lassiter, who is widely known in Johnston County as the general manager of Springhill Outfitters, has built the county’s largest banquet hall and entertainment complex on his family's farmland near Selma. Trent is a 2009 graduate of Mt. Olive University, which recently presented him with the Young Alumnus Achievement Award for his exceptional business achievements. The Farm is a one-of-a-kind venue located on approximately 10 acres on Batten Road just off I-95 Exit 101 beside Springhill Outfitters.

Trent had the idea for this building after hosting the Farm Fest concert in 2012, as he needed a facility that would provide space for bands, staging, and for indoor events as well.  He also knew of other needs for a large meeting space in the county. As a member of Duck's Unlimited, their annual dinner needs space for 400+ people so he made sure the facility could accommodate a crowd that large.  Trent also saw a need for a facility for weddings in the county, and the banquet space was built with a dance area in the middle of the floor with that in mind.  Overall, the building is 10,000 square-feet and can be utilized for multiple types of events like weddings, banquets, concerts (indoor and outdoor), birthday parties, and business seminars and retreats.  One of the more unique features is the patio space with a fire pit and outdoor lights.

The outside portion of The Farm can handle up to 5,000 people for concerts and has ample space for exhibitions/shows which will also bring people to the county. Construction of The Farm was completed in October 2013 and this year's concert series will begin on May 31st with one of Trent's friends, Scotty McCreery, American Idol Winner taking the stage with Eric Paslay, Blake Kearney Band and special guests Sadie and John Luke Robertson from Duck Dynasty on A&E.

“There is nothing like this anywhere in the county,” he said. “I think people are really going to like it.”

Trent has had the idea for The Farm for several years, but seriously decided to make it happen for two reasons; he said he has always had a love of the concert-type entertainment industry, and really believes that The Farm is something that will be good for the county. He hopes visitors will stay in local hotels, eat out, shop and come back to visit another time.

We agree Trent, and we thank you for having the vision and dedication to make it happen!

Needing a Meeting Facility? For booking information at The Farm please contact Anna Evans, the venue manager, at 919-750-5464 or visit thefarmnc.com.



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National Travel and Tourism Week

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Food Takes Center Stage at 30th Annual Ham & Yam Festival

countryham+biscuitOne big change is coming to the 2014 Ham & Yam Festival, scheduled for May 2 and 3 as food will take center stage.  In an effort to return to the agricultural roots of the festival, all food vendors will offer an item that features either country ham or yams.

“For the 30th annual Ham & Yam Festival, we wanted to return to the roots of the festival, and celebrate the fact that ham and sweet potato producers are still thriving here in Johnston County,” states Sarah Edwards, festival organizer and Interim Director of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation.

In addition to the Kiwanis Club’s ever popular Stevens Sausage country ham biscuits, food vendors will offer sweet potato funnel cakes, sweet potato pie, sweet potato ice cream, sweet potato desserts, sweet potato fries, sweet potato chips, sweet potato smoothies, sweet potato muffins, and baked sweet potatoes.

The Kiwanis Club’s annual Ham & Yam supper, scheduled for Tuesday, April 29, will feature Stevens Sausage country ham, yams, cabbage, and corn bread.  The supper is from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Centenary United Methodist Church, located at 140 E. Market Street in Downtown Smithfield; tickets are $7.00, and will be available at the door.

In addition to the food, a full schedule of events on Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3 will attract more than 25,000 thousand people to Downtown Smithfield, where the festival occupies several blocks.  Craft and commercial vendors line the streets, local entertainers perform on two stages, and there are activities for the entire family.  The festival features free concerts on Friday and Saturday nights; The Breakfast Club, America’s favorite 80s tribute band will take the stage at 8:00 p.m. on Friday after Girlz Girlz Girlz opens at 6:00 p.m.  Neon Radio will open the free Saturday night concert at 6:00 p.m., with Who’s Bad: the Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band taking the stage at 8:00 p.m.

The Ham & Yam Festival is organized by the nonprofit Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation.  To learn more about the Ham & Yam Festival, please visit www.hamandyam.com, or call Sarah Edwards at 919-934-0887.

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Strawberry Picking -- a Fun Family Outing

Rows of ripe strawberries are waiting at Smith's Nursery, located in the McGee's Crossroads Community. Rows of ripe strawberries are waiting at Smith's Nursery, located in the McGee's Crossroads Community.

Strawberries are one of nature's perfect and sweet fruits that can be used in many different recipes that will surely delight your family.  If you are looking to get out of the house after winter is finally gone and spring is here to stay, a visit to a local strawberry farm is a great idea. Let the kids head up a row of strawberry plants with a bucket and they can pick and eat as they go (a little dirt won't hurt them!).  Johnston County has several local farmer's offering pick-your-own or pre-picked berries, so if you are in a hurry...just drop by and load up.  Find the tasty fruit at Smith's Nursery and Strawberry Farm, Beasley's Berries, 701 Farm Market, and the Clayton Farm and Community Market. For more things to do this spring on local farms, visit www.johnstoncountync.org/agritourism.

History of the Strawberry

The name Strawberry was derived from the berries that are "strewn" about on the plants, and "strewn berry" eventually became "Strawberry".  They really are not berries or fruit at all, but enlarged ends of the plant's stamen. Strawberry seeds are on the outer skin, instead of in the inner berry, and there are about 200 seeds per berry.

The berries are non-fat and low in calories, rich in vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, fiber, and vitamin B6. Over history the strawberries have been used in medicines, for sunburn, discolored teeth, digestion, and gout. As far back as the 13th century, the Strawberry was used as an aphrodisiac.  American Indians allegedly invented Strawberry shortcake, mashing berries in meal to make bread the colonists enjoyed--but they must have used wild strawberries since strawberries have been cultivated in America only since 1835. The Hoveg variety was imported into Massachusetts from France in 1834.

For a variety of strawberry recipes, stay tuned in to our FACEBOOK posts this May like this popular Strawberry Pie (which went viral last year on FB):

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Ham and Yam Festival Throws Back to the 80s

2014 Ham and Yam Logo Even our logo for 2014 has some 80's style - sunglasses and punk hair!

The Ham and Yam Festival began in 1985 as a challenge from Johnston County ham producers to the ham producers of Smithfield, Virginia.  No longer is there a competition between ham producers, but a weekend of great food, fun, and music.  Johnston County is recognized as a top producer of North Carolina's sweet potato crop, so it is fitting for the festival to honor the agricultural heritage of the area...and ham and yams go so good together!!

What started as a food festival has expanded to offer a barbecue cook-off attracting great cooks from throughout the area to compete for cash prizes. Attendees will also find many varieties of hams and yams at the festival – barbecue plates from the cook-off, country ham biscuits, sweet potato fries, funnel cakes, ice cream, and desserts. YUM!

The festival hosts the “What’s That Yam Thing?” contest, a favorite for school-aged children given the opportunity to turn sweet potatoes into works of art. Visitors wander through the festival area filled with hundreds of booths occupied by face painters, local non-profit organizations, and vendors selling items including garden flags, handbags, pottery, handmade jewelry and many other arts and crafts. The family event keeps crowds entertained with performances on three stages, children’s games, carnival rides, and the very popular pig races.

We’re throwing back to the 80s... at the 2014 Ham & Yam Festival!

Face painting at the Ham & Yam FesitvalFor the 30th Annual Ham & Yam Festival, we’re returning to our roots and celebrating hams, yams, and the 1980s. For the first time ever, all food vendors will offer an item featuring country ham or yams. In addition to the food, attendees will be treated to entertainment, activities, and vendors lining the streets on Saturday. Free concerts will be held at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights at the Stevens Sausage Pavilion at the Neuse River Amphitheater. The Breakfast Club will bring real hair, real 1980s clothes, real vocals, and real musical talent when they take us back on May 2. The audience will be singing, dancing, and moonwalking along when the festival closes May 3 with an 8:00 concert featuring Who’s Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band.

Learn more at www.hamandyam.com or call 919-934-0887 and follow on FACEBOOK.

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JoCo Breweries Participate in NC Beer Month

Deep River Brewing Co. In just one short year, Johnston County has entered the craft beer industry with two breweries opening in 2013.  Deep River Brewing in Clayton, opened their doors in April 2013 and Double Barley Brewing opened in September.  As our new breweries build awareness, expand distribution and gain new customers, they have the opportunity for the first time to be part of the NC Beer Month, April 1-30.

The NC Division of Tourism, Film, and Sports Development is celebrating "all things beer" across the state from Asheville to Wilmington in 26 communities.  North Carolina now has over 100 breweries and this industry continues to grow like the wineries around the state.  The month-long list of activities includes festivals, sweepstakes, hotel packages, food parings in area restaurants and much, much more.  You can follow activities on Twitter, Google+ or use #NCBeerMonth to keep connected.

In our area of the Triangle (only 30 minutes east of Raleigh), Deep River will be hosting a First Year Anniversary Party on April 4-6 with new brews, food, music and a whole lot of fun.  We have enjoyed getting to know Paul and Lynn Auclair this year, working together to expand our Wine Trail to include breweries and to promote their events.  Likewise with Larry and Cheryl Lane of Clayton, we have found brew masters are fun, creative, hard-working folks and we think the world of both couples....and we thank them for choosing Johnston County to open their businesses.  Double Barley Brewing's Lounge-like Tap Room also offers a variety of appetizers.

  Double Barley Brewing
As a marketing organization...we want to bring more visitors to Johnston County, and by working closely with our breweries and hotels, we have several special rate offers for NC Beer Month on our website.  Visitors will enjoy hotel discounts, as well as, coupon offers from the breweries upon check-in.

For the full list of special events at the breweries for live music, food trucks, and other happenings, visit their website calendars for details.  And for an in-depth look at each business, visit our landing page, www.johnstoncountync.org/jocobreweries  ... we know you will love their unique brews and getting to know Paul, Lynn, Larry and Cheryl.

Happy NC BEER MONTH...let us know what local brews are your favorites!  Post up your picture with your favorite brew on our Facebook page and receive a set of JoCo Postcards!


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Johnston County heads to New York!

New York Media Mission Public LibraryWelcome to New York...the city that never sleeps! The Big Apple! The media capital of the world! Okay...I know that last one doesn't sound as exciting, but when part of your job is to get people visiting and writing about your county then this is a big deal.

For the second year I got the opportunity to head to New York City to participate in the New York Media Mission. The North Carolina Division of Tourism puts this event together for destinations and visitor bureaus across the state to pitch their specific attractions to a variety of New York media outlets. This includes big names like The New York Times, Rachel Ray Show, CBS News, etc., but it also includes freelance writers and bloggers.

The event took place in a gorgeous room at the New York Public Library, where people from all over North Carolina came to promote their destination. There were also restaurants and North Carolina-based food and drinks being served. The atmosphere was very laid back and welcoming for all the New Yorkers coming to see what North Carolina had to offer.

This particular media mission always makes me a little nervous. I'm never sure how much interest Big City people have in small, rural towns-- although they do love the accent. This year I was pleasantly surprised. I talked to many people about how we have embraced the agritourism concept, and the transition of farms into attractions. Many of them were also interested in our new breweries and distillery (Deep River Brewing, Double Barley, and Broadslab Distillery) that use locally grown products to create their drinks. They wanted to hear more on our food, our festivals, and our Hollywood starlet, Ava Gardner. Throughout the event there were many questions asked about our wonderful county and I left satisfied with how it went (I even got some of them saying "y'all").

Set up for New York Media MissionWhile I was up there I did some sight-seeing, but it was extremely cold. Since I didn't have much time, I bundled up (fleece leggings became my best friend) and toured the city. A high of 17 degrees meant I was visiting places that involved hot drinks. I was there the week before the Super Bowl so the excitement was building and fans of the Broncos and Seahawks were starting to arrive. I had never been to New York City while it was snowing, so I had to visit Central Park with inches of snow. It really is a spectacular city.

With the threat of bad weather back here, I had a second of worry that my flight was going to be cancelled, but I was lucky enough to have North Carolina welcome me home with more snow and temperatures just as cold as New York!

I had so much fun in the little bit of time I spent in New York City. From the people I met (both New Yorkers and fellow North Carolinians) to braving the cold, this event makes me appreciate Johnston County even more. We know how much our small towns have to offer and I am lucky enough to spread that nationwide.

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Howell Woodstock Moves Event to April

DSC_0030The organizers of the Howell Woodstock event took last year off to transition the event to the springtime versus a early November date.  The thought process behind the move included several benefits for attendees, including:  fishing for the children, better weather for hiking and outdoor activities, and prime bird-watching opportunities.

So this year's event is scheduled for Saturday, April 5th, with exhibitors, kid's activities, and hayrides beginning at 1pm and running until 5pm.  Astronomy seminars continue after 5pm and the nighttime Statewide Star Party activities begin at 8pm.

Families are encouraged to bring a fishing pole to try your luck in the Savannah Pond located near the front of the property.  Other activities include nature hikes, rock wall climbing, hayrides, mobile fish aquarium, art exhibits, live music, BB gun range, inflatables and other rides and s'mores when the sun goes down.

Educational programs begin at 2pm in the Learning Resource Center with the following topics:

2pm     Soaring with Raptors
3pm     Living with NC Venomous Snakes
4pm     Micro Structures of Animals
5pm     Exoplanets
6pm     Black Holes
7pm     Weather on Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn

Also enjoy local BBQ from White Swan, Zaxby's, door prizes, and much more!  Howell Woods is located at 6601 Devil's Race Track Rd., I-95, Exit 90, near Four Oaks, NC.  Event takes place "rain or shine", and for more information visit their website, johnstoncc.edu/howellwoods or call 919-938-0115.

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Ava Gardner Honored in Spain and Museum Exhibits Artifacts

This orange two-piece suit worn by Ava in "The Sun Also Rises", will be on display at the Retrogack 2014 Film Festival honoring Ava. This orange two-piece suit worn by Ava in "The Sun Also Rises", was on display at the Retroback 2014.  North Carolina’s own Hollywood legend Ava Gardner was honored during an international classic film festival in Granada, Spain, February 21 through March 2.

The ten-day event, Retroback 2014, featured screenings of Gardner’s movies and other classic films in the Isabel la Catolica Theater. An opening ceremony included a tribute to Gardner and a concert by Granada’s philharmonic orchestra. An added attraction was an exhibition of memorabilia from the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, NC, open to the public in a nearby bank, the Fundacion Caja Rural.  Museum Director, Todd Johnson traveled to Spain with movie posters of Ava’s films being shown, as well as, several movie costumes from the Ava Gardner collection.

Retroback has been held annually since 2009 and to date has honored Hollywood greats Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlon Brando. Hepburn’s son, Sean Ferrer, is Honorary President. “Miss Gardner’s life and own ‘Cinderella’ arc is almost a carbon copy of my mother’s life story of ‘poverty to legend'," he said. His father, Mel Ferrer, co-starred with Gardner in Knights of the Round Table (1954) and The Sun Also Rises (1957). “He always referred to her as a ‘true lady’ and the most classically beautiful woman he had ever met.”

Retroback 2014Festival organizers decided to honor Gardner because they consider her “one of the great myths of cinema.” She first visited Spain in 1950 while filming Pandora and the Flying Dutchman and moved there in 1955 to escape constant media scrutiny in the US. She fully embraced Spanish language and culture and spent much of her leisure time dancing the Flamenco and attending bullfights. “Her free spirit and her passion for life made her love Spain and Spain love her,” a recent Retroback release stated. Although she retained her American citizenship, the Spanish government attempted to collect huge sums in back taxes from the actress, so in 1968 she moved to London, where she lived until her death in 1990.

Today Gardner is memorialized with a bronze statue by noted sculptress Cio Abelli at Tossa de Mar on the Mediterranean coast in northern Spain. It was commissioned in 1998 by leaders of a grateful community who recognized the vital role Gardner played in bringing tourism to the area after her unforgettable portrayal of the enchantress Pandora Reynolds in 1951.

The Ava Gardner Museum is located in Smithfield, NC and showcases exhibits on Ava’s life and career, visit www.avagardner.org or call 919-934-5830 for more information.

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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.


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?


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.


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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