Wednesday, October 18, 2017 From ‘Phone Calls’ to a Photo on the Wall: A Brief History of Mike Smith and the NC State Fair Special Livestock Show

When Mike Smith enters a livestock barn in North Carolina, whether a county fair or the NC State Fair, you would think he was a local celebrity. Truth be told, to many of those who participate in NC livestock events, Mike IS a local celebrity. There’s no shortage of families that offer seating, snacks, and most importantly, hugs to a kindhearted man that has become extended family to those in the barn.

On Sunday, October 15, 2017, Mike’s celebrity status reached an all-time high, with his induction into the NC State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame. While most of the Hall of Fame inductees are lifetime breeders or financial sponsors, Mike, along with Mrs. Carol Turner, were selected for their roles in establishing a NC State Fair Competition that, for many years, was unique to our state – the NC State Fair Special Awards Livestock Show.

Mike is unlike any Hall of Fame Inductee before him; he was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder classified as a disability in the United States. But what some see as a disability, Mike never saw as a hurdle, and neither do those who love him. He has an amazing mind for numbers, loves children, and has always enjoyed being around livestock and fairs

In the late 1980s, Mike began traveling with his nieces as they competed in livestock events. While at those events, Mike’s job was to pick up manure from behind the cattle! When you heard Mike yell “PHONE CALL,” you knew it was code for ‘an animal left behind a pile of manure to be picked up.’ And you didn’t dare try to do it yourself – it was Mike’s job, and he was good at it!

In the mid-90s, Mike began to ask why he wasn’t able to show when he traveled with, assisted, and watched his nieces enter the ring time after time. So, several county fairs would allow Mike to walk an animal through the ring before the shows started. But the NC State Fair was different – it was big, it was busy, and it didn’t have time to let one person walk through the ring.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 The State Fair I Know

When someone asks, “if you could, would you go back to high school?”, most of the time my answer would be a resounding no. Personally, high school was an awkward time. I wanted to talk livestock, not watch the Friday night football game. I spent weekends at county, regional, and state fairs instead of at slumber parties. The ONLY reason I would consider going back would be because that is the age of eligibility for youth livestock programs. Not to mention, that age would mean participation at my favorite place on earth – the NC State Fair.

The 2017 North Carolina State Fair kicks off tomorrow, and by the time it wraps up on October 22nd more than a million people will wander the fairgrounds playing games, riding rides, and eating all sorts of food. This year marks the 150th state fair, and it’s safe to say those first fairgoers back in 1853 might feel like they’re attending a completely different event.

Like them, the State Fair I know isn’t filled with flashing lights, whirling rides, and a plethora of deep fried foods. The fair I know revolves around livestock – hogs, sheep, cattle, goats, poultry, OH MY! The first weekend of the State Fair focuses on youth market animals (meat breeds), exhibited by youth under 21.

For the youth from across the state, the State Fair is the culmination of the year’s work. The county and regional fairs in the spring, summer, and fall are all leading up to the State Fair. It’s like training for a big marathon – there are smaller races throughout the year to build stamina, discipline, and muscle. The smaller race placings are icing on the cake, but the goal is the big one. And folks, the State Fair is the big one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017 Accidents Happen. Will You Be Ready?

My husband, John, and I belong to the weekend warriors: farmers who are dependent on off-farm income to sustain our families, provide insurance, and help plan for the future. We both work full-time jobs off the farm, have a toddler, families, friends, and church. As you can imagine, we don’t have a lot of spare time. Our farming is jammed into nights, weekends, vacation days, and holidays. Our time spent on the farm is carefully planned in advance; we divide and conquer to accomplish more tasks, and more often than not our to-do list gets precariously longer instead of encouragingly shorter.

While most folks had 4th of July plans to tan on the beach, my tan would come from wearing a tank top while spraying herbicides on multi-flora rose and blackberry bushes. While others drove the parkway, John drove the tractor to catch up on clipping our pastures. While families watched fireworks that night, we drove home with our sleeping toddler in the backseat.

Our farming day started like most at our farm. My parents picked up our son to take him back to their farm for the day. John filled the tractor with diesel, and I mixed the tank of herbicide. Bluebird skies and no breeze told me it would be a great day for the task at hand. With no drift, I could get a LOT accomplished in the limited time we had that day.

On my second tank, I decided to head up a logging road cut through the pasture to take care of some blackberry canes that were both at the base of the road and at the top. I had finished spraying the bushes at the base of the road, and was heading to the top when the front, right side of the 4-wheeler started to rise, and in the blink of an eye, there was no doubt it was rolling.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 From Dial-Up to Snapchat: Building Ag Communities Online

I can remember like it was yesterday. Once farm chores and homework were completed, there was the opportunity to fire up the computer. And wait for it connect to the internet via dial up. There was no mute button for the wheerrrrrr wweeee DINNNGGG DDDIINNNNGGG DINNNNGGG of the dial up connecting. For a high schooler in the 90s in rural America, the internet was a fascinating place of email, chat rooms, and AOL Instant Messenger. Only one remains popular, and the others have been replaced with text messaging, Snapchat and Facebook.

We lived in mostly isolated parts of northwest North Carolina; my parents are divorced and both lived on a dirt road. My dad’s was a dead end road, with no neighbors on the road. The closest neighbor at my mom’s was a mile away. Needless to say, there were very few play dates and group activities with other rural youth, with the exception of school and church. And even then, it wasn’t uncommon to still feel somewhat isolated as the other kids at school and church had very little interest in the cattle we hauled across the country or the pigs we were taking to the State Fair.

Enter the internet, and with it the ability to connect with kids who WERE interested in the same things as me! I met tons of people my age from across the state and nation through FFA and National Junior Angus Association, and the internet gave us the platform to grow our small community. With the reliability of dial up, we were usually only able to chat for 5-10 minutes before a call beeped in or someone else needed the internet for legitimate reasons, like homework, but it was still exciting to talk to other kids who shared my interests.

While the availability and reliability of internet in rural areas has changed, the isolation in many of our rural areas has not. Many farm youth and adults are still utilizing the internet for the same reasons I did 20 years ago.