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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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Clayton Bootleggers Expanding Club with Professional Partnerships

Clayton Bootleggers Expanding Club with Professional Partnerships



Did you know that Johnston County has a Rugby team? Well, it does. The Bootleggers. Appropriate for this area, no? Established in 2013 the Clayton Rugby Football Club, or the Clayton RFC, is one of the fastest growing club teams in the USA. In fact, the Bootleggers just added a U20 squad (players between 18-22). This adds to a team roster that already includes men’s Division 3 and 4 teams and an Old Boys (35 & over) team. In addition, the club supplies coaching support for a youth rugby program called the Clayton Copperheads that offers playing opportunities from kids between the ages of 6 and 18 and is run by Pat & Becky Cunningham.

The Clayton RFC practices twice weekly at East Clayton Community Park and that’s also where they host home games. The club is very proud of their growth. They’ll be hosting their 2nd tournament in Clayton this coming July. It’s called the CottonTown 7s Rugby Festival. And it brings in visitors from out of town as well as giving the Bootleggers and the community a chance to showcase their talent as a team and their organization as a club. A win/win.

I spoke to club President Ted Hardy about how far the club has come and about the serious (dare we say professional?) goals they have for the future.  


Clayton Rugby Football Club Dreams Big


Let’s talk first about the major news coming out of the club in the last few months. You guys have been working on an impressive partnership with the Glasgow Warriors. That’s a professional European rugby team. That’s incredible! There can’t be too many small-town USA club teams that can boast that sort of network?

“Our relationship with the Glasgow Warriors is quite unique. There are a few other relationships between European professional rugby clubs and American clubs, but the American clubs involved are from major markets, field elite squads, and have been around for 30-40 years. The fact that our club is young, just starting to climb the competitive ranks, and from rural North Carolina makes our relationship that much more interesting and special. Our experience with them has been flattering, humbling, and extremely important to our growth. There are cultural, administrative, and marketing structures that we are using right now with the Clayton RFC that are scaled versions of what is being done by Glasgow. We have truly been blessed, but at the same time we went out and worked for it.”

 So, what are the logistics of this partnership?

“Technically speaking, we are referring to our agreement as a Developmental Relationship with Nathan Bombrys, whom is the Managing Director of the Glasgow Warriors. Through him we are gaining access to the Warriors, but we do not have a formal agreement in place with the club. We hope to see this relationship continue to grow to the point where we can create a formal partnership with the Warriors down the road. The current relationship in place provides our club quarterly teleconferences with either Nathan or one of his administrative/marketing staff or coaches depending on the topic we're interested in discussing. Nathan has also helped provide administrative support to our club through his mentoring and advice. He has been instrumental in opening multiple doors for our club in Scotland where we have quietly created a strong network of professional contacts and resources. This relationship led to a group of our Board Members making a development trip to Scotland in February of this year which was an amazing experience. During our stay we spent time with the Warriors as well as staff from the Scottish Rugby Union and multiple clubs in Scotland. All of which was facilitated through our relationship with Nathan. There is a keen interest overseas in the development of rugby in the USA and they were incredibly gracious with their time and information. The hospitality we were shown rivaled our very own Southern hospitality.”

 


What does your partnership with clubs abroad, that aren’t professional teams, look like?

“One club that we have aligned with is Ayr RFC. They are one of the top clubs in Scotland and a model organization with teams in every age group from U6 through Premier Adult Men and Women. We are in ongoing talks with them on a variety of topics. Our goal is to set up an exchange program between our clubs where we have yearly player and coach exchanges. This will allow promising players that come through our club, as well as coaches, to experience true immersion in a rugby culture. This will benefit our players and coaches by improving their knowledge and skill set, and will ultimately help our club continue to rise up the ladder in American rugby as they bring that experience back to Clayton. On the flip side, their coaches and players get to experience rugby in a developing rugby country and bring their experience to our club to help us improve. Our club is also heavily involved in working within the community and developing non-rugby events. Ayr is a leader in this area and their expertise in community events is one of the reasons that Nathan opened their doors for us.”

I don’t know much about rugby but it seems like the momentum that Clayton RFC is building is lightyears beyond what I’d except from a rural club just a few years old.

“We have taken an aggressive approach to our club's development. Instead of focusing solely on wins and losses, we have instead placed an emphasis on building the administrative and operational foundation that will be the platform for sustainable success, on and off the field, for many years to come. Having been around rugby for a very long time, I can say that what is happening with our club is very special in American rugby. There aren't many clubs operating at the organizational level we're delivering, certainly not in the Carolinas.”

So, you’re starting a U20 team. How do you decide when to add teams or program options in the club?

“The U20 team has been in the works for about a year. Jumping from high school to men's rugby is tough physically and mentally. USA Rugby, our governing body, is soon to start pushing U20 as a bridge to help with the transition. We're hoping to get ahead of the curve. We have some really neat ideas for the group that will help those involved and help our club as they develop into men's players. One idea on the table is to take local kids that may have not otherwise gone to college and give them scholarships to JCC so they can get a 2-year degree and play rugby for our U20s while in school. We're also hoping to send some overseas.”

Aside from the growth in teams and participants, what else is on the horizon for the club?

“We have some very exciting prospects on the horizon for our club. At the top of that list is our new rugby facility which we hope to break ground on this Summer. We have recently worked out an agreement with the Town of Wilson's Mills. They have a Community Park project that has been in the works for quite some time. Last year they approached us about getting involved in the project. Almost a year later we have an agreement in place that was unanimously approved by their Town Council. The Town is going to put in a playground, bathrooms, parking and some support structures at the park and then provide us space to develop a multi-field complex. We intend to install 3-4 fields at the park. At least two of the fields will be multi-purpose in nature and one will be what we're referring to currently as a ‘Championship Field’. The Championship Field is going to have permanent professional grade rugby goal posts, a manicured playing surface, team sideline shelters, and raised bleacher seating for 500-1000 fans initially. Essentially a mini rugby stadium. Right here in Johnston County... who would have ever thought?”



This project seems like an excellent opportunity for all involved. We here at the Visitors Bureau of course love it when something brings in tourists (like visiting sports teams and fans). But, this partnership will also be about what the Bootleggers can bring to your community. What’s the ultimate goal in regards to that?

“While we're keeping close tabs on the Championship Field, all of the other fields that we install will be made available to the town and community. This was a win-win for everyone involved. We get much needed land without the expense of purchasing and in return we provide recreational space for the Town. We are also launching a new youth rugby program through the Town of Wilson's Mills next Spring that will be open to kids in Wilson's Mills, Smithfield, and Selma. We have also received permission to construct a full-service clubhouse on the grounds. We expect that to come a few years down the road, but once it is complete it will include banquet space, locker rooms for teams, meeting rooms, a kitchen, and more. We are hoping to team up with the town on that project and allow the facility to be used as a community center as well.”

On the flipside of that, it seems like the ultimate goal of Clayton RFC is to make your home turf an attractive and professional location to play rugby. What could this new facility mean for hosting major rugby events?

“When the facility is complete it will make us an extremely attractive option for hosting rugby events in the Eastern USA. There is very little competition for elite rugby events in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast and we expect our facility to bring in a number of teams and events to Johnston County in the coming years. Our weather profile also makes us an excellent Winter destination option for clubs from the Midwest and Northeast. We've completed some rough economic impact studies and our facility could be the cornerstone for sports tourism for the county. We also intend to use the facility to host non-rugby community events throughout the year like movie nights, concerts, kids events, and more.”

As a club, do you think your ultimate dream is to be North Carolina’s first professional rugby team?

“The fact that there isn't a major sports team in Johnston County is something we are keeping in mind. Another reason why it is important that we lay down a solid foundation first – administrative, financial, coaching, and facilities. While we may not be professional in the sense that we are paying staff, we can certainly take a professional approach to how we operate our club and provide services and entertainment to the community. We aim to continue to grow and improve our teams, which will improve us as a product worth viewing. Rugby has received such a warm welcome here in Johnston County already. I think there is so much potential for the sport here. We, as a community, have a very interesting opportunity to get on board at the ground level with rugby as it begins to explode across the United States. Johnston County could never get a Major League Baseball team or an NFL franchise, but rugby is on the verge of professionalizing in the USA and there is a very real opportunity to bring it to us.”



See It All for Yourself – Catch a Bootleggers Rugby Match


Where can people interested in watching the Bootleggers play see you next?

“Best place to see us next is at our 2nd Annual CottonTown 7s tournament on July 15th. We're hoping to have 30 teams playing in four divisions this year. There should be 2-3 teams of Clayton players in the tourney. That is 7 v 7 rugby like what is played in the Olympics. It is our big event for the year. The season just wrapped up and will start again in September.”

Any last comments?

“I'd be remiss if I didn't take this chance to highlight our many wonderful local partners and sponsors: Deep River Brewing Company, Clayton Chiropractic, Crossfit Clayton, Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina, Sheetz, World Rugby Shop, and TanseyReviews.com. Without their support, we wouldn't be able to deliver rugby to the community like we do.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the Clayton Rugby Football Club, or maybe becoming a Bootlegger yourself, visit their website - www.claytonrfc.com.

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NC Beer Month is Full of Beer and Cheer

NC Beer Month is Full of Beer and Cheer

It’s the time of year again! NC Beer Month is in April! Our JoCo brewers are ready to welcome you with cheers and beers!

When Deep River’s Paul and Lynn Auclair set out to open Johnston County’s first legal brewery in 2013 they had a vision for an award-winning brewery that would have a beer for every type of craft beer lover and would strive to use locally grown ingredients whenever possible. A short time later, Double Barley Brewing came on the scene making Johnston County an even more enticing place for beer-lovers to visit. Double Barley also uses local ingredients and packs a punch, with a tendency towards dark, strong beers.

Both brewers have expanded production and distribution since they opened. Johnston-County-made beers also win awards. In 2016 Deep River took home Silver at the NC Brewers Cup for their Munich Dunkel – “I Think I Left My Shorts in Munich”. They also took home a Bronze for their Barrel Aged Imperial Milk Stout. Double Barley’s “Double Dubbel” Belgian Style Ale won Gold at the NC Brewers Cup and their “Touché” IPA won Silver at Summertime Brews.



This April, for NC Beer Month, you can expect small batch beers from Double Barley, as well as a BBQ Cook-off at the brewery on April 14th. Deep River will be celebrating with its 4 Year Anniversary Party, April 7th-9th, and is releasing a collaboration with another award-winning brewery, Mother Earth out of Kinston. The collaboration will be a hoppy, Australian-style IPA.

Johnston County is part of the Triangle beer scene and conveniently located just minutes from Raleigh, which makes it a perfect craft beer day trip destination. Visitors can also make a weekend out of their visit with the Sip & Stay package. It’s a wonderful weekend itinerary for couples, girlfriends, craft beer & wine enthusiasts and visitors that enjoy spirits and local foods.

Included among the many deals in the package are coupons to Deep River Brewing Company and Double Barley Brewing. The package also includes a special offer room rate, as well as deals on area shopping, dining, and attractions. For more information visit www.johnstoncountync.org/sipandstay.



To learn more about Deep River and Double Barley visit www.deepriverbrewing.com and www.doublebarleybrewing.com. Both breweries will also be participating in state-wide events and festivals for NC Beer Month. For all things #NCBeerMonth related visit www.ncbeermonth.com.

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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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301 Endless Yard Sale Works to Add Participants in 5th Year

301 Endless Yard Sale Works to Add Participants in 5th Year

A variety of towns located along US 301 in the counties of Johnston, Halifax, Wilson, Nash, and Harnett are planning for this year's 5th Annual 301 Endless Yard Sale, taking place Friday and Saturday of June 16-17, 2017. Along the 100-mile stretch of highway, the communities join together with vendors offering deals, antiques, collectibles and more.

Organizers of the sale this year are focused on further community involvement up and down the sale to increase vendor and shopper attendance. Reports from townships and vendors who participated in last year's 301 Endless Yard Sale show that the event continues to grow. However, there are still sparse sections along the 100 plus mile event and town leaders are looking to change that. A trend organizers are hoping continues this year is the participation of non-profits and private residences. Local businesses aren’t the only ones who can capitalize on sale traffic by setting-up yard sales and vendor booth spots in their parking lots and on their lawns.

“Here in Johnston County businesses along 301 have been selling vendor spaces in their parking lots and having sidewalk sales for the last 4 years,” stated Ashby Brame, who works for the Johnston County Visitors Bureau and helps organize the sale. “Where we’ve seen the sale grow is that now schools, like South Johnston’s Booster Club, and churches have started opening their parking lots to vendors. In addition, residential stretches of country road outside the major towns that used to be blank now have more and more private residences working together with neighbors to offer very robust yard sales along 301.”

The planning of this event also continues to grow in scope as participation and attendance increases. Town managers, tourism representatives, health department officials, and employees with emergency services all remain an integral part of the planning process. In addition, this year organizers hope to work with NCDOT to set-up a system along the route to track increased car volume the weekend of the sale to get the most accurate count of how many people attend the 301 Endless Yard Sale.

Preparations are underway for welcoming tons of visitors who are invited to explore the country roads of Halifax, Nash, Wilson, Johnston and Harnett Counties to look for that unique collectible along the 301 Endless Yard Sale. Towns are working on providing additional events and amenities for vendors and shoppers. Downtown Smithfield will be having a concert event Friday night the 16th. The Wilson Fairgrounds will be offering on-site spaces for vendors wishing to camp-out with their booth. Smaller towns like Micro, Lucama, Elm City, and Enfield hope to have an increased vendor showing this year.

It officially starts Friday, June 16th and runs through Saturday beginning at 7am and ending at 5pm daily. For more information on the event and contacts in each town's vendor locations, visit the official website, www.301endlessyardsale.com.

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New, Renovated, and Unique – Meetings in JoCo

New, Renovated, and Unique – Meetings in JoCo

Updates and Renovations


Meet outside the city and outside the ordinary when you plan a conference, trade show, or other gathering in Johnston County. Our location next to the Triangle, 45 minutes from RDU International Airport, and at the convergence of I-95 and I-40 make Johnston County an ideal place to hold a meeting.

With historical downtown areas and rural farmland, meeting planners have a unique mix of urban, modern, and rustic locales to choose from. Venues and services are being added and expanded upon in the county all the time. In 2016 Brick & Mortar, downtown Clayton’s event space and catering company, announced it will remodel their interior to provide events for up to 220 people. Broadslab Distillery in Benson, NC announced plans to open a meeting and wedding venue by Summer of 2017 that will hold 330 people.


Secluded and Beautiful Venues 


Due to the number of beautiful scenic farms, Johnston County also offers off-the-beaten-path venues for meeting planners looking for an experience removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. Locations like Camp Nellie, Lazy-O Farms, and Portofino offer venues by ponds, in horse barns, and under the southern night sky stars.


Amenities and Assistance

There are hotels with varying amenities and price-points spread throughout the county, many of which are close to meeting venues. In addition, locally-owned and chef-operated restaurants provide catering services that will wow your meeting guests with surprising twists on southern staples.

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau is a great resource during the initial stages of your meeting planning. We are ready to help with all your groups needs and can provide you a comprehensive view of the area and help you find the right fit for any size gathering.

Contact us for complimentary help with:
•    Securing accommodations for your attendees
•    Navigating through service provider options available
•    Providing your attendees local information to enhance their visit

For assistance planning your meeting in Johnston County, contact the JCVB at 919-989-8687. Our Sales Manager, Sarah Campbell will gladly assist you.

For a full list of Johnston County meeting venues please click here to download our Meetings and Facilities Guide.

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Trail Rides, Theater Dinners, and Tasting Tours

Trail Rides, Theater Dinners, and Tasting Tours

Celebrate Valentine’s Day in JoCo



Black Creek Hill Farms Valentine's Day Couples Trail Ride
February 14th by reservation only

Includes a 1-and-a-half-hour trail ride for two including a simple picnic lunch with beverage of choice. Information available by calling 919-524-5096.

Private Candle Light Valentine's Tasting & Tour
February 12th through the 26th by reservation only

This couples package includes a private candle lit guided wine tasting for two in one of our barrel gallery rooms, a selection of meats, cheeses, and chocolates to accompany your tasting, a private guided tour of the Winery, two souvenir stemless wine glasses, and a bottle of wine of your choice. Sit back, relax, and enjoy each other while savoring a variety of wines paired with a selection of tasty treats.

Tickets and information available here.

The Clayton Piano Festival presents the 5th Annual Valentine's Day Gala at the Wagner House
February 14th at 6:30PM

Internationally acclaimed husband and wife duo, Craig Ketter, piano and Valerie Gonzalez, soprano take listeners on a journey through some of the greatest solo piano and vocal works having to do with love of all kinds - successful, unsuccessful, dramatic or humorous.

Ticket price includes a four-course dinner, concert, and reception. Tickets and information available here.

The Good ‘Ol Girls Dinner Theater at Gregory Vineyards
February 11th at 5:00PM

Two of Nashville's leading singer/songwriters redefined the modern Southern woman in Good Ol' Girls, a musical about love, loss and laughter. The price includes the show and a prime rib dinner served with salad, baked potato, cheesecake, and tea. The evening begins between 5:00 and 5:30PM.

Please contact Gregory Vineyards at (919) 894-7700 to reserve your seat. More information is available here.

Valentine Food & Wine Tour
February 9th at 6:00PM

Eat, Drink & Fall in LOVE on our Valentine's Food Tour! More information is available here.

Harbor Valentine Ball 2017
February 11th at 7:00PM

Raise awareness and money for a fantastic local organization that aids survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault! Harbor's Valentine Ball will feature music from the Central Park Band, a silent auction, and great food! Attendees will receive two wine/beer tickets and there will also be a cash bar.

Call 919-938-3566 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to purchase tickets! Purchase tickets by February 8th. More information available here.


For an on-going list of events happening in Johnston County, including additional Valentine’s events that could be added as details are finalized, go to www.johnstoncountyevents.com.

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Read the JCVB 2015-16 Annual Report

Read the JCVB 2015-16 Annual Report

Click here to read the Johnston County Visitors Bureau’s 2015-16 Annual Report with financial statements and highlights from the activities of the staff.  The JCVB staff is engaged every day in promoting Johnston County, our hotels, shopping, attractions, and events to attract visitors to our county…who are leaving their dollars behind!!!  

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, Visit NC Team announced that domestic visitors to and within Johnston County spent $221.72 million in 2015, an increase of 3.2 percentage from 2014.  Tourism growth in the county continues to be strong and already in 2016 revenues are at record heights.

Our marketing and communication efforts are primarily focused outside the county and along our interstates to reach the traveler who has many choices on where to stop and stay along the way.  However, in 2017 we are committed to increasing the communication to our internal customers within Johnston County on the mission of the Bureau. This includes our continued partnerships with the tourism industry, non-profit organizations in the county, our town tourism marketing committees, the Johnston County Sports Council, and the Johnston County Hospitality Association.  

Our primary goal which is mandated by enabling legislation is to utilize the local room tax to market our tourism industry partners helping to bring economic prosperity to the county.  However, we also want you to know us as an agency and our vision for tourism in the county.  We invite you to connect to us on social media, visit our offices, or attend a board meeting... working together we will continue to see great things happen in Johnston County!

With warm regards,


Donna Bailey-Taylor, CDME
President/CEO

Follow Us on Social Media






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Weddings in Johnston County - Expos and Expectations

Weddings in Johnston County - Expos and Expectations

Locals and visitors alike seek to make Johnston County their wedding destination. A JoCo wedding can be rustic, unique, elegant, outside in a vineyard, or inside a whimsical historic home. And with the right team, it can be all those things at once.

I have worked on the fringes of the wedding industry for years. Never as a planner, but as a provider of wedding services and a member of an association comprised of event planners. Weddings can be exceedingly elaborate or frugally modest. I have never been married, but I have lived through some weddings, let me tell you, and I have two pieces of advice.

The first tip is this: designate a wedding planner. Notice that I did not say hire. I said designate. Wedding planners are angels from God sent to organize chaos into control, cheer in your corner, wipe the sweat from your brow, fight some of the harder battles for you, and make it look like walking on air. This makes them exceedingly qualified to get you from "She said yes!" to the post-reception send-off with supreme grace. This can also make them expensive depending on the level of service you are asking of them. You certainly get what you pay for (in the best possible way). However, in the event that you cannot hire a wedding planner, designate a trusted friend or family-member (not an immediate family member) who you trust to be honest, organized, and un-biased. If it helps, call them a wedding coordinator. They will help you coordinate all the details that you can't quite accomplish on your own. After all, someone has to tell the wedding party when to walk down the aisle while you stand out of sight of your groom.  

The second piece of advice is this: go to a wedding show held within the geographical region that you wish to get married. This holds especially true for destination weddings. If you are not familiar with the area, a wedding show will introduce you to vendors within the local wedding industry. If you live in the area you want to be married in, you're not off the hook. Even if you have been planning your wedding since you were 5 years old (twice-over now that you have a Pinterest), you don't know what you don't know until you attend a local wedding expo. How many cake makers, reception venues, florists, transportation companies, caterers, and wedding planners are in your area? You don't know. Because even though you live here, you've never gotten married here. Or maybe you have... this is a judgment free zone.


The excellent news is that there are 2 up-coming wedding expos in Johnston County.


The 3rd Annual Bridal Expo is happening at The Farm January 29th from 11AM to 4PM. They will have several vendors from the wedding industry, including photographers, videographers, caterers, bakeries, florists, DJ's, travel agents and more! Advanced tickets are $7/person and tickets at the door will be $10 (cash only). The Farm also be giving tours of their venue throughout the day.

The 2017 Clayton Wedding Expo is on Saturday, February 4th, from 10AM to 2PM at The Clayton Center. Discover the latest bridal trends as you chat with 35+ vendors about everything from venue selection to catering and from bridal fashions to honeymoon destinations. The event also will feature food tastings, giveaways, and door prizes. The Clayton Wedding Expo is free and open to anyone planning a very special event in the coming months. Pre-registration for the Expo is not required, but it is highly recommended. The first 100 pre-registered brides will receive a free gift bag. Pre-register here.

You can also browse a list of wedding venues in each town within the county at any time at the Johnston County Visitors Bureau website here. We are all here to help you say I Do in Johnston County.

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Savory & Sweet Potato Recipes

Savory & Sweet Potato Recipes


Fall is for cool weather and warm comforting food, which means we've added more recipes to our on-going, online collection. This Fall we've found 4 sweet potato recipes and one butternut squash bonus recipe. Johnston County is one of the top county's in North Carolina for sweet potato production. We have a long history of trying to work sweet potatoes into everything from a traditional casserole to the breakfast and dessert tables. The unique flavor of sweet potatoes makes them an idyllic ingredient that can be utilized in both sweet and savory ways. The butternut squash recipe is a twist on a classic pasta carbonara dish. Serve a steaming bowl of it at your next dinner party to bring Fall flavor and carbolicious comfort food together.

If you would like a recommendation on how to get a hold of some delicious, locally-grown, Johnston County sweet potatoes, look no further than the Clayton Farm and Community Market. Their winter hours are every other Saturday from 10AM to 1PM and this Saturday the 29th there will be free Halloween fun for families. Click on a recipe below to give it a try and let us know how it went on our Johnston County Visitors Bureau Facebook page here. Happy Fall Ya'll!

Leftover Sweet Potato Casserole, Brie and Bacon Grilled Cheese

Sweet Potato Tots

Baked Sweet Potato Donuts with Dark Chocolate with Coconut

Sweet Potato Hash with Baked Eggs Recipe

Bonus: Butternut Squash Alfredo Pasta


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The Watermark of the Human Spirit

The Watermark of the Human Spirit


Sometimes in this blog I get to provide information, and sometimes I get to introduce interesting people. But better yet, every once in a while, I get to say something important.  This is one of those times. It is critical in the days and weeks to come that you shop local. And not just in your own community but in the communities you happen to visit, from Benson to Goldsboro to Fayetteville to Charleston to Savannah.

Hurricane Matthew damaged a lot of homes and businesses, some of which were shops, restaurants, hotels, museums, and historical sites. Visitation is their lifeblood. Being open to receive customers is critical. Not only are many of them facing repair costs with very little of the federal assistance afforded to residential property owners, but these local business owners take a loss every day they cannot open their doors. Please continue to support them. Make it a priority. Ask what you can do to help. When you see them reopen their doors, go make a purchase. From a tourism prospective “going local” has always been important to me. On a good day, shopping local provides you an opportunity to make a connection with someone who has ties to the place you’re visiting. It provides you with cultural context, a friendly face, and the sense of exploration you get from stepping outside your comfort zone to try the unknown and unique. But on a not-so-good day, shopping local provides you the opportunity to help someone with an entrepreneurial spirit continue to realize their dreams; your business is their key to recovery.

It’s going on two weeks now and the hurricane itself is a distant memory of the vast Atlantic Ocean. But from the Haitian villages all the way up to the small towns of eastern NC, the flood waters are only now receding and the destruction being accessed. There are still 18 shelters open in North Carolina housing displaced people. Yes, raging waters subside and we will rebuild our lives as generations of strong, stubborn Carolinians before us have done. But, help is needed. Much like currents can be both cruel and kind, humanity can also rise to the occasion. I’m asking you to choose kindness right now, as people return to homes and cars that are destroyed. As families deal with the loved ones they lost to the flood waters, let us band together to assist and to comfort.

A wonderful, digital publication Bit & Grain has provided a very thorough write-up on their website of how you can help Hurricane Matthew victims on a state-wide level and also by county. The contact and donation information listed includes Johnston County.

Don’t forget to thank a first responder or a utility worker. I would like to thank all of North Carolina and Johnston County’s first responders. You are the people who rush out to help while I stay hunkered down in my home. You are the boat in raging waters. You are the people on the frontlines putting yourself in harm’s way to help those in need. Even when flood waters recede and raging winds calm, you take a step forward every day when the rest of us take a step back. And to linemen, watermen, and public works people, who work ceaselessly to return our lives to normalcy, thank you.

This Saturday the 22nd of October the Clayton Center is hosting the last concert event of the Clayton Piano Festival. It will be an amazing night – 5 artists with 5 pianos all playing together on one stage. To say thank you, the center and the festival have come together to offer up-to 4 free tickets for first responders to the event so that they and their families can enjoy a night of entertainment at no cost. It is the least we can do for all you have done for us. Each responder can receive the tickets by simply calling the box office at 919-553-1737 or stopping by The Clayton Center at 111 E. 2nd Street in Clayton.

A writer is a reader first. It is because of this elementary and important rule that a writer’s words are the product of everything they have ever read. So, I would like to end this blog post by borrowing from a writer I love to read (and by unabashedly mentioning how wonderful Our State magazine is and that you should subscribe to it as a local or lover of North Carolina).

In her most recent welcome letter in Our State magazine, Editor in Chief Elizabeth Hudson wrote about rivers, both the joyful distraction and sometimes terrible destruction they offer up. I was privileged at an event a few weeks ago to hear her read these words along with the rest of the letter out loud. She could not have known, nor could the rest of us in that room have known, how true these words would ring just a few weeks later. Nor could Our State, who plans its editorial calendar months and years in advance, have known that their Rivers issue would hit stands a week after the devastation of Hurricane Matthew.


“During Hurricane Floyd, when the Tar River swelled 20 feet above flood stage, we lowered our heads and prayed so hard for our friends in eastern North Carolina… places where the river is a part of everything. If you look, you can still see the waterlines on clapboard, an alluvial yardstick of our history. Raging waters subside, eventually. And I hope, then, we speak of better days – of the swimming holes and of tires swinging from overhanging branches; of beloved wet dogs shaking on the banks; of Sunday baptisms and church picnics and family reunions; of pointing the nose of a canoe downriver and paddling; of spending quiet, perfect, peaceful afternoons in search of smooth, flat stones to sling, popping the surface of the water and making ripples that seem to go on forever.”


The waterlines will indeed mark for years and decades to come how high the waters of Matthew got. We will be able to viscerally measure how hard nature pushed at us and in our recovery will be able to tell the story of how we pushed back.  It is the push back that is tougher to see and measure; the watermark of the human spirit that shows how high we are all willing to rise to help those around us rebuild their lives.

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American Music Jubilee Christmas Show Is Here

American Music Jubilee Christmas Show Is Here

 

I love fall. I love the changing of the seasons. The magic in nature’s unseen and unheard signal to turn down her thermostat, bringing relief to those of us in the South tired of sweat-breaking temperatures. The second that the air in eastern North Carolina drops below 65 degrees and the breeze starts stirring the leaves, I throw open my windows and turn the HVAC unit OFF. Hello chilly air, hello sweaters and blankets and warm cups of coffee.

Much sooner then I would like the orange glow of pumpkins and the scent of cinnamon apples will give way to all things red and green and the fresh, clean, biting scent of winter air will settle in. My love for fall is eclipsed only by my love for Christmas. I mean, I LOVE Christmas. If I have my iPod on shuffle in the car and a Christmas song comes on, I don’t care if it’s April, I’ll let it play. Sometimes it takes more than one month to contain all you love about the holidays.

Thankfully, that’s why there is the American Music Jubilee in Selma, NC. Their Down Home Christmas Show starts November 5th of this year and will run through December 21st, which gives you plenty of time to experience the joy of the holidays through music and laughter.

A show at the American Music Jubilee is an evening of southern hospitality, great American music, and side-splitting comedy that will delight audiences of every age. Add a couple of surprise guests, like Santa and his friends, and this show is guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit!  A touch of Branson and a touch of Myrtle Beach, American Music Jubilee includes a ten member cast that skillfully combine comedy skits with traditional and modern Christmas music.  

The show normally begins at 1:40pm and 7:40pm, but we suggest checking the calendar and booking in advance to reserve your seat. Admission charges are $28.50 for adults with special pricing available for children, balcony seating, and groups of 20 or more. Groups should call ahead.

The reason the Jubilee starts their Christmas show in November is because so many people want to see it, and because some people like me want to experience a little Christmas before December 1st. Just remember to make the most out of your Down Home Christmas Show experience by exploring Selma before or after the show. Selma has 14 antique and specialty stores as well as outlet shopping – so you can get that Christmas shopping done a little early too.

Selma, NC is located along the I-95 Corridor at exit 97.  For more information and for tickets call 1-877-843-7839 or (919) 202-9927. You can also visit the website at www.amjubilee.com.

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Local Caterer Appears on Food Network's Cake Wars

Local Caterer Appears on Food Network's Cake Wars

Copied with permissions By Keith Barnes and the Kenly News

Joyce Jenkins of The Serving Spoon in Pine Level appeared as assistant to her daughter, Charlise Johnson, a Smithfield native who now lives in Atlanta, on Food Network’s “Cake Wars” last week making it to the final round of the high-profile competition.

“Cake Wars” episode, which aired on Monday evening, Sept. 5, featured the Johnston County team and followed four bakers competing in two timed elimination-style rounds. Each baker was vying for a chance at a $10,000 prize but only one master cake artist got the chance to walk away with the top prize. The team of Jenkins and Johnson County beat out two other baking teams before being eliminated in the final round of competition.

Jenkins is owner of The Serving Spoon located at 212 N. Peedin Ave. in Pine Level and has been a caterer in Johnston County for 13 years. Johnson graduated from Smithfield-Selma High School and now lives in the Atlanta area where she launched her custom cake-baking business in 2013.

“She’s been cooking with me since she was three years old and she’s 36 now,” said Jenkins. To get on the show Charlise Johnson sent in a video and her entry was selected by the judges leading to an invitation to come to California and compete.

“For the show the contestants each were allowed to get an assistant,” said Jenkins. “She asked me if I’d help her because she felt the most confident with me.”

“One contestant was from Pennsylvania, one was from New Jersey and the other was from California,” said Jenkins. “They were pretty formidable opponents.”

“They give you a list of ingredients that you have to choose from,” said Jenkins. “We made a lemon basil cake with tomato jam and used ricotta cream cheese icing and a sweet potato cake and whipped cream icing.”

Jenkins said every bit had to be prepared from scratch and they were given no hints or clues prior to the competition of what they would be doing. “It was an enjoyable experience,” said Jenkins. “We had fun and enjoyed meeting the other bakers who we became very good friends with before we left. I’m so happy Charlise took me along for the ride.”

“The biggest thing I got out of it was that I got to help my daughter grow her brand,” said Jenkins. “Anytime I can help my children succeed in life I’ll be there 100 percent.”

Earlier this year at the Johnston County Arts and Food Festival Gala held at Johnston Community College The Serving Spoon took home two top prizes winning in the most original dish and best appetizer categories.

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JoCo Has Tons of Festivals You'll FALL in Love With This Autumn

JoCo Has Tons of Festivals You'll FALL in Love With This Autumn

Summer vacations are over, the kids are back in school and you are looking for fun-filled weekend trips close to home to enjoy...and Johnston County fits the bill. Starting in September visitors will find many unique festivals and events to enjoy, and several that honor our agricultural heritage.
Mule Contests During Festival
Benson Mule Days began in 1949 in the charming farming community of Benson whose leaders wanted to honor the hard-working mule and the importance of agriculture in the region. For over 60 years, this festival has hosted Mule Competitions, rodeos, art festivals, midways and carnival rides and one of the largest parades in the state of North Carolina. Over 2,000 horses and mules will ride in the Saturday morning parade which over 10,000 people attend each year. If you are a horse or mule enthusiast and would like to ride in this year's parade, learn more on the event website, www.bensonmuledays.com. Admission is charged for carnival rides and rodeos. This year's Mule Days will take place the 22nd through the 25th of September.

The Clayton Harvest & Music Festival will be September 17th starting at 9:00AM. Enjoy the Kid's Corner, Safety City, Health & Fitness Village, Arts at The Wagner, over 200 vendors, classic car show, food, musical entertainment on The Main Stage, carnival rides and more. Keep up with their Facebook event page for on-going information.

Other September events include the St. Ann International Food Festival, a Deep River Beer Dinner with CJ's Street Food, and a Monster Truck Throwdown at GALOT Motorsports Park.


LoBoys in a Pumpkin Patchoking into October for things to do you may consider the Annual Selma Railroad Days Festival, always the first Saturday in October. Railroad Days includes a 5K run, parade, crafts, food, children's area and a variety of entertainment. Admission is FREE. For more information visit www.visitselma.org. If you love beer and bluegrass, then the second Saturday in October will have you sipping and singing along. The 5th Annual Shindig Music Festival will take place on the 8th in Clayton. The festival features 10 Americana and Bluegrass genre bands on 2 stages. You can read the band line-up and get tickets here.

October is bursting like a full pumpkin patch with other events for families like the Wilson's Mills Pumpkin Festival, the Broadslab Shine & Shop Handmade & Vintage Market, and the Clayton Piano Festival. Not to mention, tons of Halloween events later in the month. Don't forget about the many family-owned farms across Johnston County offering pumpkin patches, hayrides, and even spooky evening activities for adults. You can find their activities on our calendar of events as well. Click here to view the events calendar. In addition, you can call our office for a FREE visitors guide at 1-800-441-7829.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Perfect Tomato Sandwich is a Simple One

The Perfect Tomato Sandwich is a Simple One

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 in Raleigh as the spring and summer crops are being harvested which starts with sweet strawberries in April and blueberries in June and July. By the time August rolls around, the bounty is rich and plentiful with corn, peaches, okra, 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 simple just isn't your thing, try for a bit of avocado on there. Or, turn two recipes into one by substituting the ripe red tomatoes on your sandwich for fried green ones. Yum!

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 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 and other summer fruits and vegetables, we hope you try some of the recipes we have on our site 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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Scenic Settings and Summer Sounds

Scenic Settings and Summer Sounds

Warm summer evenings call for a cold drink and some tunes. Thankfully, there are quite a few places in Johnston County where you can have both. We’ve rounded up musical performances happening around the county over the next month. Click through the links to find out more about each one. Also, don’t forget to follow the Johnston County Visitors Bureau on Facebook or visit www.johnstoncountyevents.com to stay up-to-date on events happening in the county.

July 23rd – Bluegrass Fest at the Farm – gates open at 11:00am
Performers include The Malpass Brothers and Al Batten & The Bluegrass Reunion. Bring a chair or a blanket and enjoy some of the best bluegrass acts round.

July 24th – Live Music on the Front Porch – 2:00pm to 4:00pm
Hinnant Vineyards has a glass of chilled wine and Wade Hill ready to serenade you on the front porch as you gaze about you at the lush vineyards.

July 29th – The Little Mermaid – 7:00am
The Clayton Youth Theater presents The Little Mermaid, a musical sea adventure for all ages. If you can’t catch it on the 29th be sure to visit their website for other dates and times. The show runs through the 6th of August.

August 11th – Sun down in Downtown Concerts – 5:30pm to 9:00pm
Come to the Benson Singing Grove to listen to Jim Quick and the Coastline Band. Bring a lawn chair and a picnic basket to make an evening out of it.

August 20th – An Evening with Gaylon Pope and Sweetwater – 8:00pm to 10:00pm
The Rudy Theatre, home of the American Music Jubilee, presents a special evening with Gaylon Pope.

August 20th – Clayton Town Square Concert Series – 5:30pm to 9:30pm
This month’s concert features Kasey Tyndall with the Big River Band. Evenings on the town square are made even better by the presence of Deep River Brewing and Wine on Main to provide libations while you jam.

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Make a Splash. Cast a Line.

Make a Splash. Cast a Line.

It’s the dog days of summer and in the south that means a lot of lazy front porch sitting with a cold glass of lemonade or sweet tea clutched in your hand like a lifeline. But, it can also mean floating down the river, casting a line, or diving in to cool off. In Johnston County, we’ve got tons of outdoor activities for both the adventurous and the idle at heart.

You can do all these activities in one trip if you make it a weekend escape to Johnston County. But Johnston County is also close enough to the Triangle to include all these in your list of day-trip, must-do Raleigh activities. If you’re traveling up or down I-95 this summer, stop and let the kids play off some of that energy. Many of the activities below are near the interstate.

Splishin’ and Splashin’ at Tucker Lake

Open May to September, Tucker Lake offers swimming, hiking, a playground, and picnic area. The lake is spring fed with sandy beaches, a rope swing, slides, and paddleboats, kayaks, and canoes available for rent. Lifeguards are on duty at all times, which makes this the perfect place to take the whole family on those hot summer days. You can bring your own chairs, rafts, food, and non-alcoholic drinks to enjoy as well.  

Tucker Lake is located in Benson and does have a daily admission cost. You can find more information by visiting the Tucker Lake website.

Catch Waves on Wires at Hexagon Wake Park

You could say that Hexagon Wake Park is for the athletic or adventurous, but their first-timers class makes sure that everyone who wants to give cable wakeboarding a try, can. For the uninitiated, cable wakeboarding is when a series of overhead cableski wires pull you through the water instead of a boat.

Hexagon shares space with Tucker Lake, though they have separate entrances, and parties that do not want to wakeboard can simply hang out at Tucker Lake. Both kids and adults of varying ages can brave the wake course and there are rentals available if you don’t have your own equipment, including the board, life jackets, and helmets. For more information on Hexagon and for a list of their pricing, visit their website.

Have Some Fun Out of the Sun at SRAC

If it’s too hot outside for the little ones, or you’ve got a case of the sunburn, try the indoor pool at SRAC – also known as the Smithfield Recreation & Aquatics Center. Along with an indoor pool, they’ve got a splash park for the little ones to enjoy and great locker room facilities.

If you’re visiting the area and/or are not a member, SRAC offers drop-in fees which you can pay to have access to the pool and the gym facility for the day. For more information, check out their website.

Rent a Canoe or Kayak and Float on the Neuse River

Scenic and historic, the Neuse River offers a gentle and relaxing ride. There are plenty of places along the Neuse in Johnston County to put in your own boat and go. But if you find yourself without equipment and know-how, contact Neuse Adventures Canoe and Kayak Rentals. They’ll get you all set and drifting down the river in no time. They also provide the drop off and pick up transportation for 2-hour quick-trip floats and longer 5-hour river excursions. Find out more about their float trips and rentals at their website.

See if the Fish Are Biting at Smith’s Nursery

Smith’s Nursery is family owned and operated. If you’re a Johnston County local, or an avid berry-picker, then you know that Smith’s is the place to be during strawberry and blueberry season. But, Smith’s has tons of other fun activities and seasonal produce options throughout the year – pumpkin picking, hayrides, and a millet maze.

You can also fish their pond. All you have to do is show up with your own equipment and bait, pay a $5 per person daily fee, and drop a line. Smith’s has 2 stocked ponds and restroom facilities. If you get tired of catching, you can always mosey on over to the produce stand for some ice-cream.

Smith’s asks that you catch and release and that you fish from the banks, no boats. If you’re a local or you’re going to be in the area for a while, yearly family passes are offered for $125 a year. For more information about Smith’s visit their website.

Remember your sunscreen and to stay hydrated while you’re having fun. For more information about things to do in Johnston County be sure to visit our website page as well.

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Just Peachy

Just Peachy

Honestly, what is there to say about peaches that you don't already know? Quite possibly my favorite fruit. Versatile, sweet, and juicy these pink/orange fuzzy fruits are good in dishes from appetizers all the way to the dessert course. I like to bite into them on a hot day like an apple myself. And don't get me started on peach ice cream. Amazing. Summertime magic. I've given you peach recipes in the past from mojitos to cobbler. To switch it up I've provided a peach green tea with a spiked-up option, a peach coffee cake you can enjoy guilt-free for breakfast, and an appetizer dish that will make you the hostess with the most-ess at your next party.

Iced Peach Green Tea

Brie, Basil, Bacon, and Peach Pastry Puff


In Johnston County, Thompson Orchards is the best place to get your peaches - and creamy, homemade peach ice cream. Thompson Orchards is family-owned and family-grown, located on Highway 701 South (I-95 Exit 90, 5 miles south). Locals and visitors make sure to stop in each summer for not just homegrown peaches but other produce, veggies, and other goodies.

Here are the orchard's hours this weekend:
Saturday, July 9 9:00am-6:00pm
Sunday, July 10 1:00pm-6:00pm

Be sure to stay dailed-in to their Facebook page for announcement of hours for the remainder of the season.

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Yard Sale or Flea Market? That is the question.

Yard Sale or Flea Market? That is the question.

It's almost mid-way through May, which means if you squint you can basically say that the 301 Endless Yard Sale is a month away. Wow! Times flies when you're furiously planning a two-day, five county, 100 mile extravaganza. If June 17th and 18th aren't already circled on your calendar, go ahead right now and write BIGGEST YARD SALE IN NC across that Friday and Saturday. For all the details you can visit the 301 Endless Yard Sale website.  A Tobacco Basket For Sale

Planning this event for the hundreds of vendors and thousands of shoppers takes a lot of time and a lot of passion... and a lot of coffee. But, it also means that we aim to answer all your questions and inquiries via phone, email, or Facebook. And one question in particular got us to thinkin', as we like to say here in the South.

The question was posed to us: what is the difference between a yard sale and a flea market?

Why is it called the 301 Endless Yard Sale? Why not flea market? Garage sale? What an excellent question. We think it deserves some investigation.

First lets dive into the actual definition according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Yard Sale - a sale of used furniture, clothing, etc., held at the seller's home.

Flea Market - a usually outdoor market in which old and used goods are sold.

For long stretches of the 301 event, since its beginnings and even now, the sale consists of primarily locals selling items in their yard - furniture, books, toys, clothes, boats. You name it, we've seen it for sale. Some local artists sell things they've made, like jewelry, or they sell items they've purchased and up-cycled themselves.

Donna Bailey-Taylor, Director and CEO of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau was instrumental in organizing the event for the first time and she talks about the concept for the 301 Endless Yard Sale as a coming together of the community to create the event, "We had very serious collectors and antiquers in the Selma area who knew about the Highway 127 Sale that stretches from Michigan to Alabama every year. We thought that maybe we could pull-off something similar on a smaller and more local scale."

"We talked to the local communities along Highway 301 running through Johnston County and we got them on-board with the concept and the date. The first year was mostly people selling out of their yards and pockets of roadside vendors, but we knew that the event would benefit the community." Antique Vendor Booths in Selma

So, the 301 Endless Yard Sale did begin and remains partly to this day one big, long yard sale. But, to be fair, we could also call it the 301 Endless Flea Market, because it has organically grown into that as well. There are spots along the route where antique stores, auctions, community organizations, and even unrelated businesses offer up their parking lots and sidewalks to vendors interested in selling goods. Vendors who rent these booths usually don't have a yard on highway 301 to sell out of. They are also normally selling antiques, vintage, or handcrafted items as a legitimate business, not trying to get rid of the extra lawn gnome gathering dust in the garage.

Bailey-Taylor says that the first year of the sale businesses were encouraged to participate in this way but it took a while for the idea of having designated vendor areas along the sale to catch on, "we also had a vision that the sale would bring attention to the many antique and thrift stores in the Selma area and along the rest of the route. We went out to locals and businesses to tell them that they could sell vendor spaces, but you don't how much participation you're going to have until the day of the event. We were pleasantly surprised that first year and it's only grown since."

Now going into the 4th year of the sale and having expanded to encompass 5 counties in NC, the 301 Endless Yard Sale is by definition both a yard sale and a flea market. Along the 100 miles and over 2 days, shoppers from near and far can haggle with locals on green lawns about a box of china or stop at one of the many businesses along the route with vendor booths to pursue multiple stalls at once - filled with old barn-side signs, or vintage red wagons, or a gently used KISS vinyl. Both the sale and the possibilities are endless.

So, now you know. Are you more of a yard sale or flea market shopper? Do you look for that used item to DIY up-cycle or the vintage find that you can brag to your friends over? You'll find all types of shoppers along the 301 Endless Yard Sale - serious antiquers, thrifty moms, crafty creatives, collectors. We hope to see you there too!
 

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S is for Spring and Strawberries

S is for Spring and Strawberries

I enjoy a good strawberry - perfectly ripe, red and sweet, but not too mushy. It's like biting into the sweet moment between Spring and Summer. All that aside, I don't think about strawberries much. And unless it's April in Johnston County, I don't write about them either. However, in the year that I have been writing and working for the Johnston County Visitors Bureau I have been astounded by the number of people who LOVE strawberries.

No other post on this blog or on the JCVB Facebook page amasses likes, loves, shares, and general interest like the one time of year I post about strawberries. What is it about this fruit? Is it their flexibility in cooking - good in anything from BBQ sauce to cupcake icing? Is it the idyllic picture they present of warm days during childhood spent in a berry patch? Could it be that the strawberry is the favorite fruit of most people, a hypothesis yet untested by science? I may never know. But, what I do know is that these delicious red berries are in season and it's time to celebrate.
Strawberries and Cream Scones
Lucky for you strawberry lovers, The Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce has been busy planning The Annual Strawberry Festival. The festival takes place Saturday, April 23rd from 9am – 4pm and is one of the biggest events in the Cleveland Township. This year's event will be even bigger. There will be an assortment of vendors, businesses, arts & crafts, face painting, games for all ages, and a ton of food including stuffed strawberries. Yum!

There is no admission charge to this event thanks to wonderful, local sponsors. So, if you're passing through make sure to stop in for red, ripe strawberries and fun! This event takes place right off of I-40 at exit 312. And let's not forget that the festival includes local farms selling strawberries - you can buy some to make the recipes provided below. Let us know how your strawberry and cream scones turn out, or share pictures of your other strawberry creations over at our Facebook page.

Strawberry Sangria

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Stout Brownies

Strawberries and Cream Scones

Strawberry Banana Popsicles


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The Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina

The Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina

I was going to start this blog off with the phrase, "can you think of anything more southern than ham?". But then I started to think about sweet tea, pecan pie, fireflies, and moonshine. So, I took a step back. The history of ham reverberates back in time to an era and place far from the American South. There is no denying however, that the South has a tradition of taking the pig and making it our own. One first thinks of barbeque. I'm going to talk about curing.


Master of the Cure


Let's begin by understanding the difference between curing meats and being a Curemaster, like Rufus Brown from Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, NC. According to the website Johnston County Hams are the epitome of a very Southern tradition. Our hams are the result of a traditional curing process Sam and Rufus discuss their Lady Edison product at the Smithfield Ham Shop at Johnston County Hamsdeveloped, perfected and handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years dating back to the first American colonists. While many understood the process, and curing meats was a widely used practice, a few curemasters were able to fine tune their recipes, practices and techniques to a point of pure mastery.

It is this mastery that southerners are so proud of and the reason that ham finds itself at the center of our family dinners and cherished recipes. This tradition and taste is honored at events like the Ham & Yam Festival, held every May in downtown Smithfield. Johnston County Hams was started in 1946 but began receiving national attention in the late 60's. Curemaster Jesse Brown refined the curing process down to a science, consistently producing a finely aged, delicate, not-too-salty cured ham. His son, Rufus Brown carries on the cure legacy at Johnston County Hams.

And now, a partnership between Rufus Brown and Sam Suchoff is poised to usher in a new era of high quality and delicious pork. The product is called Lady Edison and she is the Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina. It sounds sexy, intriguing, exciting. It sounds like it goes great with red wine. Since you already know Rufus and his incomparable background in curing, you should know that Sam runs The Pig restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC. As Sam tells it, "I first met Rufus 7 years ago when I called up Johnston County Hams to see if they would cure out some hams for a friend of mine.  He's been my ham guy ever since!" An instant camaraderie.


A Savory Product. A Sustainable Idea.


Lady Edison is a labor of love and a product whose quality is based on patience and time. Sam uses his contacts as a barbeque restaurant owner to partner with hog farmers that sustainably raise hogs and are members of the North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association. This means that the pigs are raised on open pastures without the use of antibiotics or added hormones. The reason the partnership works so well Lady Edison Logois that every part of the pig is utilized. Hogs are purchased whole by Sam and then processed at Acre Station Meat Farm (locally owned and operated in the eastern part of the state). Sam then takes the bacon, barbeque, and other useful parts for his restaurant, while Rufus takes the hams to his ham shop in Johnston County to start the process of making Lady Edison. Before I discuss the process, it may be helpful to explain to those not in-the-know that pork curing is also called putting-up or hanging hams. This is because the curing process demands that hams are literally hung in the air to cure.

According to Sam and Rufus the process involves the hams being hand rubbed with a dry blend of sea salt and sugar... and held at near freezing temperatures for 40 days. These “winter days” allow the cure to penetrate the meat as it extracts moisture. The hams are then rinsed and hung at spring-like temperatures with a “steady breeze” that facilitates the equal penetration of salt throughout the ham and removes excess moisture. Next, the hams are hung in the smokehouse and exposed to a light hickory smoke—imparting signature flavor before the final aging process begins. This final stage of maturation occurs in a warm and semi-humid aging room where the hams hang over hickory sawdust. It's these conditions under which the ham really comes into its own.

Lady Edison is a savory pork experience, more buttery than salty. It's comparable to its Spanish counterparts and the serving recommendation is thinly sliced and raw like prosciutto. Rufus and Sam's partnership has already proven fruitful. Lady Edison products can be found on menus in over 25 restaurants across the state and country. Raleigh restaurants like Gravy, Asheville restaurants like Bull & Beggar, and even places as far off as Manhattan and Kiawah Island. Restaurants and chef's that use the product in tapas, salads, and other dishes report rave reviews. I've tried it myself and can speak to the deliciousness. The extra aging on the Lady Edison product gives a supple texture and a melt-in-your-mouth flavor that would pair well with cheese and, as I earlier surmised, red wine.

There is nothing more central to a Christmas dinner or an Easter lunch, nothing more coveted at a cover-dish, then a country ham or country ham biscuit. Lady Edison invites you to try an extra fancy country ham. A ham above the rest. In the South we take pride in doing certain things real slow. But, that's because patients often lends itself to reward. Your next dinner out, look for Lady Edison on the menu at your favorite restaurant and give the Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina a try.

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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

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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

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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

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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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FREE TRAINING

 

Check out what other travelers say about Johnston County, North Carolina on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor
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