DOBSON — At age 6, Davis Seivers of Pilot Mountain has plenty of time to choose a career field, but he has shown an early interest in corn production.
With a vast array of farm machinery, livestock, games and exhibits to direct his attention to Saturday during the 11th-annual Celebrating Agriculture festival at Fisher River Park just outside Dobson, Davis was fixated on a simple, antique corn-shelling device.
“This is his favorite thing he’s done here today,” said the boy’s grandmother, Janet Seivers of Dobson, as she stood nearby and watched him orchestrate the removal of kernels from ear after ear.
She explained that Davis already had visited the shelling site once during the day, where a combine dominated the proceedings along with bags of corn, but wanted to try his hand at it again.
And though he didn’t actually say it, the boy — along with many others attending Saturday’s event — seemed to be thinking, “I didn’t know agriculture could be so much fun.”
Elsewhere on the sprawling Fisher River Park grounds, families and generally folks of all ages were seen petting or otherwise getting close up and personal with a variety of farm animals, including cows, goats, sheep, horses, a pig named Bacon and even two miniature Mediterranean Jennet donkeys named Cloud and Lulu.
They also were checking out an exhibit of live honeybees and other displays hosted by Surry County Master Gardeners; watching a blacksmith ply his skills; learning about unique ways to grow food, including shiitake mushrooms; or looking at modern as well as classic tractors.
On the less-educational side, festival-goers were wheeling around the grounds on a hayride powered by a tractor and munching on hamburgers and other food items as bluegrass musicians played from an amphitheater.
In other words, the goal of the gathering from organizers’ point of view was being met in a bumper crop kind of way.
“It’s an agricultural-awareness event…it creates awareness of agriculture in the area,” Surry County Extension Director Bryan Cave said Saturday as he flipped burgers on a grill that added degrees to an already hot day.
Cave indicated that the gathering — which has been spearheaded by the N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Surry unit since 2006, with the help of Master Gardeners, farmers’ market personnel and others — showcases the continuing importance of agriculture in this region
That includes financially, according to Cave.
“Agriculture is about 20 percent of the county’s economy,” the extension director said, “between 20 and 25 percent.” It produces about $280 million in gross annual income.
Another thing many people don’t realize is that agriculture accounts for around 15 percent of the county’s workforce, Cave said. It is also the number one industry in North Carolina, ahead of tourism and the military, which take turns at the second spot.
“It’s huge,” Cave said.
About 4,000 people typically attend the annual gathering at Dobson.
Virtually every facet of the agricultural industry was represented Saturday, from livestock to field crops, fruits and everything in between, and much of the machinery that brings it about.
Many festival-goers seemed fascinated by the opportunity to get a feel for what occurs down on the farm.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Stephanie Coburn, a young mom from Mount Airy who was attending the Celebrating Agriculture event for the first time, along with family members.
Coburn said she enjoyed learning about local agri-business enterprises, along with edible plants that exist in Surry’s backyards.
Meanwhile, her daughter Danielle, 4, was getting a kick out of petting the farm animals. “She’s loving it,” Coburn said.
One of the more unusual displays at the park was dedicated to the craft of straw bale gardening.
Basically, it involves a thin bale of hay turned on its side, with dirt placed at the top where various crops can be planted. Master Gardener Terry Willis of Lowgap posed with one where kale was being grown.
Willis explained that straw bale gardening is an appealing, easy alternative for those who want to grow their own produce, but who might lack the land to do so.
“You can use straw, you can use hay — a lot of people swear by it,” Willis said.
“People are doing it on their patios, in their apartments,” she added, and just about anywhere else. The highly sustainable technique also serves to protect plants from pests and disease and even the hay can be used for compost after each growing cycle.
And besides fun and knowledge, another commodity was being harvested in ample amounts Saturday during the Celebrating Agriculture festival, as pointed out by Janet Seivers, who was attending with her grandson Davis, both for the first time.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” she said of growing up on a farm.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.