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, September 27, 2017 Farmers Are Multi-Skilled For a Single Purpose

The following article was written by Jessica Walker Boehm and appears in the Fall 2017 issue of North Carolina Field and Family.

Ask a farmer what he or she does on a daily basis, and you’re bound to get a wide variety of answers – there’s planting crops, evaluating soil, predicting weather patterns, caring for livestock, repairing and maintaining equipment, keeping detailed financial records, and much more.

As a result, it’s easy to conclude that farmers routinely multitask their abilities and develop new skills to get the daily job done efficiently and safely. Often, they switch from one role to the next without skipping a beat, constantly working to master new methods and skills that might better serve their farms and livestock.

multi-skilled farmers

“Before I worked in agriculture, I thought you just put a seed in the ground and watched it grow, then had something to harvest at the end of the season,” says Russell Hedrick, a first-generation farmer who owns JRH Grain Farms in Hickory. “I had no idea about the technology you can employ to ensure you grow a better crop, and I didn’t realize how much I would learn once I was immersed in this occupation.”


Just of few of the skills farmers master to accomplish their jobs:

  • accountant
  • advocate
  • conservationist
  • educator
  • entrepreneur
  • feed consultant
  • marketer
  • mechanic
  • meteorologist
  • public speaker
  • researcher
  • soil scientist
  • technology expert
  • veterinarian
  • welder

Established in 2012, JRH Grain Farms is a 1,000-acre, no-till operation that includes corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, oats and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye), as well as pasture-raised beef cattle, Katahdin sheep and Berkshire pigs.

JRH Grain Farms also has a seed- cleaning facility that serves various local farms, and Hedrick says his farm is the only one in the state that produces bourbon. Additionally, Hedrick makes legal moonshine and stone-ground grits and cornmeal.

His operation has evolved over the years as he has continued to learn about soil science and technology. For example, he now uses sensors buried 48 inches in the ground to monitor soil moisture and temperature, as well as rooting depth and electrical conductivity, helping him to conserve water.

Hedrick has also worked with scientists and researchers across the U.S. to reduce his farm’s soil fertility needs by approximately 70 percent, which further contributes to his conservation efforts and results in significant cost savings. In addition, he has created a cover crop by blending five different plants that helps limit soil erosion, suppress winter weeds, scavenge excess nutrients from the preceding crop and improve the soil’s biological health.

multi-skilled farmers

Russell Hedrick of JRH Grain Farms

He sharpens his educator skills regularly, sharing his knowledge with other farmers who might also bene t from it. Hedrick hosts a Field Day each year that features guest speakers like Ray Archuleta, a famed North Carolina conservation agronomist, where farmers have the opportunity to learn how they can enhance their operations and improve their soil without damaging the environment.

In addition, Hedrick is a businessman, marketing his products directly to consumers using social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, and he promotes agriculture by working with organizations like Catawba County Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers team and the North Carolina Farm Bureau.

“I try to advocate for agriculture any way I can,” Hedrick says. “Here in Catawba County, we have Farm to Fork Week every June, and the last two years my farm has hosted a daylong event. Members of the community have come out and looked at our equipment and our operation, and this year we hosted kids of all ages.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 A Young Farmer and Rancher Story: Jamie and Ryan Clark

Earlier this year, we wrote about Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R) Program, and how engaging and developing the next generation of American farmers is so important. This week, we’re sharing the story of Jamie and Ryan Clark, a young farming couple from Rockingham County who fell in love with “farm life” and the young farming community.

Seven years ago, my husband Ryan and I didn’t own a farm, much less have plans to own a farm. We were like most young couples, working 50 hours a week to make a living and start our family. We were interested in agriculture, and even had a couple of cows and a small garden in our backyard. That’s when we became involved with the Young Farmers & Ranchers Program after our District Field Representative suggest we attend the NCFB State YF&R Conference. That experience gave us the motivation to grow our small backyard garden into the lifestyle that we wanted for our family.

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.