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JCVB Blog

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

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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Fear and Fun can be Found in Johnston County this October

Fear and Fun can be Found in Johnston County this October


The Clayton Fear Farm has been run by Boyette Family Farms for years and is the Triangle area's only scream park. This means that the Fear Farm isn't just a haunted house or maze, but a spooky destination with 7 uniquely terrifying haunted attractions. You could spend hours being scared to death!

This year’s frightening features offer the opportunity to pick your scare. Will it be the dark corn maze, the spooky woods, the terrifying school house, or a trip into a black hole? Be sure to bring your friends along, if you bring enough there’s a group rate. Ticket pricing lets you pick a little scare or a whole lot of terror; tickets are available for all attractions or on a per attraction basis. Check out the Clayton Fear Farm schedule on their website for dates and times.

Night time scare attractions are recommended for kids ages 12 and up. However, you can also visit Boyette’s during the day for non-scary Halloween fun with younger kids. There are hayrides, a playground, a corn maze, pumpkin picking, games, and other activities. Open through October on Saturdays from 10:00AM to 5:00PM and Sundays 1:00PM to 5:00PM.


New to Johnston County, in Kenly, is Sonlight Farms, offering a corn maze as well as bounce houses, hayrides, fall games, and fun props for family photo ops. There is even a smaller maze for the little ones to have fun in. Open every weekend in October on Fridays from 5PM to 9PM and Saturdays 3PM to 9PM.

Visit the Sonlight Farms website for more information and location. Sonlight is owned and operated by locals Joshua and April Phillips, who love the fall and wanted to create a place on their farm that family, friends, and visitors could enjoy everything the season has to offer. They hope you make a Sonlight visit a part of your family’s fall traditions.


Smith's Nursery and Produce Farm runs a pumpkin patch every October on their sprawling family farm. Not only can you get a pumpkin for carving but you can explore the farm which has hayrides, animals, a sunflower field, a pond, and even bee hives. Be sure to take the family to the Smith’s Fall Festival on October 22nd from 10:00AM to 3:00PM. There will be all the usual fall activities listed above plus horseback rides, music, bbq, a firetruck demo, face painting, and more. Visit their Facebook event page for more information.

Lazy O Farm in Smithfield also offers fall fun on the farm experiences for kids and families. The best time to go is Saturday October 29th from 2:00PM to 5:00PM for their Trick or Treating in the Maze event. This is a non-scary event for the little ones with animals, hayrides, a playground, and even a new Fairy Tale Trail offered this year. For more information on the event like location and cost, visit the Facebook event page.


Wilson’s Mills Pumpkin Festival will take place on October 8th from 10:00AM to 4:00PM at the Wilson’s Mills Town Hall. This is a family friendly event with vendors, children's activities, dunking booth, music, food, and much more! There will be a 5k Run/Walk for the Sue Daniels Memorial and Backpack Buddies, as well as a charity car show. A day of fun for everyone and admission is free!


For the lovers of fall who are over 21, plan to hang out at a local brewery, beer store, or your own back yard with a cold one in hand this October. Our Johnston County craft breweries have you covered. Deep River Brewing is known for their Fall and Winter seasonals, one of which is a Pumpkin Pie Porter with all the spices you associate with Fall. The other is a show-stopper brewed in the style of a Belgian Dubbel with local Johnston County sweet potatoes and toasted marshmallows going into the brew. It's called the JoCo White Winter. Yum! Double Barley Brewing has put some rock n' roll into their seasonal beer called Gourd Rocker Imperial Pumpkin Porter. This is a rich, creamy, nicely spiced beer like many other delicious fall seasonal beers. Except that in true Double Barley fashion this craft brew comes in at a 9.4% ABV. That's why it's called gourd rocker!

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Festival Celebrates Five Years of Making and Sharing Music

Festival Celebrates Five Years of Making and Sharing Music

 
The Clayton Piano Festival is celebrating their 5th season this Fall with an astounding line-up of artists. The season schedule of concerts will run October 14th through October 22nd. Organizers are expanding the festival to reach a larger community and have added additional events to celebrate this important anniversary. This year there will be six concerts with one at the Cary Arts Center and another at the Preston Woodall House in Benson, with the remaining events to be held in Clayton.

Both the Creative Director of the festival and a performer every year, Johnston County local Jonathan Levin is excited to showcase the growth of the festival as it enters year five, “Our goal over the years has been to share the joy and exhilaration that great music can bring in a fresh, new way each year, presenting a variety of top level classical artists from around the world.  I think at this point it’s become an anticipated cultural event in the area and we’re very pleased about that.”

The format of the Clayton Piano Festival is built on the premise of accessibility and interaction with the artist. As in past years, there will be intimate dinner concerts at smaller venues, and social “meet the artist” receptions following the concerts to enhance the experience for attendees.  There will be outreach programs to area schools to share the importance of music education and bring concert quality performances to more than 1,000 students.
Clayton Piano Festival Year Five Poster
This year’s concerts include a variety of music genres such as Ragtime and progressive rock.  Levin explains that “the idea is to show the full extent of what the piano can do, not just one discipline.” Performances this year include Rachael Flowers, a multi-talented instrumentalist and composer who lost her sight as an infant. According to Levin the festival is happy to have booked her, “we’re getting her right before she becomes famous. Racheal just had a Hollywood documentary made about her that is already making the film festival circuit.”

Levin, himself always modest, will be a can’t miss performance as well. Just last week he performed a solo recital debut at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Rorianne Schrade reviewed the performance for New York Concert Review and had this to say, “Showmanship, intelligence, more than ample pianism, and sensitive musicality are all wrapped up in one package in this young artist, so he should do quite well in his career.” This year’s festival line-up offers a unique chance to catch Jonathan in his hometown of Clayton.

Along with returning performers Jonathan Levin and Angelo Rondello, newcomer and renown ragtime pianist and composer Mill McNally at the Preston Woodall House and Russian pianist Azamat Sydykov at the Wagner House will be charming audiences with their performances. Which include dinner provided by the venue, and each will also include a reception to meet the artist.

The final gala will truly be a show stopper.  Hear five CPF artists perform, each sharing inspiring insights into a work with special personal significance for them.  Special guest, Mary Prescott, an adventurous, multi-genre artist, joins the others as she shares her unique voyage into learning the art of improvisation. To conclude the concert and the 5th season, all 5 artists will perform together on stage at the same time…on 5 pianos! With six hundred seats to fill, the organizers of the final concert are offering FREE tickets for children up to age 18, one for each paid adult ticket.

General ticket prices for Concerts with Dinner at The Wagner House and Preston Woodall House are $45.00 adult, $35.00 seniors, $25.00 students, concerts only $15.00 for adults and $5.00 students.  For the Sunday performance by Jonathan Levin at the Wagner House, tickets are $15.00 adults and $5.00 students/children.  The final concert performance featuring all five pianos will be $20.00 adults, $15.00 for seniors and military, and FREE for children under 18 years old. Tickets for the event are available at www.claytonpianofestival.org/schedule-tickets and tickets for the final performance may be purchased directly with The Clayton Center at www.theclaytoncenter.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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The Shindig - It's Music for Your Beers!

The Shindig - It's Music for Your Beers!

UPDATE: Rescheduled to November 13th!

To better assist in the understanding of this blog for those not “in the know” and especially for those that “want to be in the know” I have decided to kick-off this week’s blog with a couple of definitions.

1. Shindig - a large, lively party, especially one celebrating something.
2. Americana - an amalgam of American folk music formed by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that make up the musical ethos of the United States; specifically, those sounds that are merged from folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and other external influences.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about The Shindig. 2016 marks year number five for this intrepid festival, held every October in downtown Clayton, NC. Be sure to get your tickets for this year’s Shindig held October 8th from noon to 10PM. The theme of this year’s event is “Music for Your Beers” because the organizers of the event want to highlight both the amazing bands the music festival is proud to host and the 7 craft breweries that will be on the scene for your enjoyment.

This year’s line-up includes over 10 bands and leads with American Aquarium (pictured below), The Black Lillies, and Yarn. Dave Brown, head of Earth Plow productions and one of the key organizers of Shindig, is very pleased with the line-up, “there isn’t another Americana music festival anywhere. The Shindig strives to bring you cutting-edge music by bands you’ve never seen or heard before in an intimate venue.” This goal is what drives the line-up every year and is why the festival has taken a turn towards the Americana genre recently while still having bluegrass bands on the schedule.
American Aquarium Comes to The Shindig
If you’ve never been to Shindig, or any music festival, this is the year to attend. Brown says that they’ve never had this many bands on the ticket with this much of a following. American Aquarium, the headlining band, is generating over 250 likes on their Facebook page daily. Festival organizers expect the popularity of the genre and the popularity of the bands to draw in attendees. As of now there are people coming from places all over NC and from surrounding states – SC, VA, TN, and even CO.

The growth of the festival year-over-year is exciting but Brown still calls it, “the best festival you’ve never heard of.” The Shindig isn’t on a national scale with music festivals like Moogfest or Bonaroo, but it wants to be. Right now though the smallness of the festival means you can experience the heart of what a music festival is supposed to be, with nationally recognized bands, at a reasonable ticket price, and without the crowds associated with larger festivals.

The other component of The Shindig is craft beer and food trucks. You can’t enjoy good music for hours on end without sustenance. West Johnston County has a great craft beer community with well-loved breweries Deep River and Double Barley, both of who will be on-tap on the 8th. But, sometimes you need a little more than 2 for a party. So, Shindig got Foothills Brewing, Bull City Cider Works, Fullsteam Brewing, Bombshell Brewing, and new-kid-in-town Yester Year Brewing out of Carrboro. So not only will there be music you’ve never heard before, but also beer you’ve never tasted! Plus, with multiple food trucks already confirmed and Zaxby’s sponsoring a chicken wing eating contest, you couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a Saturday.

I know what you’re asking yourself. How can this get any better? Well, hold on to your horses because there are still beer taster tickets with VIP line access available for purchase. General admission is $20 ahead online. But, for $35 ahead, and while they last, the UNLIMITED Beer Tasting Ticket gets you VIP "line-skip" service, a commemorative glass, and of course unlimited sampling of all of the craft breweries for 5 hours. Yes!!!

To find out more regarding sponsors, the line-up, tickets, or general information, visit www.theshindig.net. If you’re wondering what else there is to do while you’re in town for the Shindig, visit www.johnstoncountync.org. Lastly, if you want to keep up with other rad festivals and events happening in Clayton and Johnston County’s other towns visit www.johnstoncountync.org/events.

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67th Annual Benson Mule Days® Celebration set for September 21-25

67th Annual Benson Mule Days® Celebration set for September 21-25

Last week we did a round-up of Fall festivals and activities coming to JoCo as the weather gets cooler. This week we'll be focusing in on one of those events that is just a few weeks away.

The town of Benson, North Carolina celebrates Benson Mule Days® the 4th Saturday of September each year. This year it will take place September 21st through the 25th.  Mule Days was also recognized by the Southeast Tourism Society this year as a September 2016 Top 20 Event. The festival is considered one of the largest festivals in North Carolina and will kick-off with a carnival, trolley rides, and concert Thursday night.

This festival, which draws approximately 50,000 people, is full of family fun and activities for everyone young and old. The weekend is packed with rodeos, a mule pulling contest, arts and crafts, vendors, street dances, carnival rides, camping, parades, bluegrass shows and more.

The parade alone attracts about 20,000 people and takes place Saturday, September 24th at 10:00a.m. The parade will feature bands, floats, antique tractors, and hundreds of horses, mules, and buggies. Following the parade visitors can make their way to the Singing Grove Park where a Bluegrass show is being presented.

Visit the arts and crafts vendors as well as food and commercial vendors.  It is always fun to walk into the local businesses which offer a variety of products in our area.  There are three rodeos, the first of which begins on Friday night followed by a Saturday night performance.  On Sunday there is a Youth Rodeo.

As a rural community, Benson, North Carolina has long been known for its farm heritage.  The trading of mules was one of the town’s main occupations. The memories and a love for tradition led Nowell Smith and Willis McLamb to discuss with Lewis Lawrence, the first manager of the newly formed Benson Chamber of Commerce, the possibility of setting aside a day to celebrate the mule. In 1950, the Benson Area Chamber of Commerce agreed to sponsor the first Mule Days. The festival continues to be a spectacle that garners international attention. Visitors come from as far away as Alaska, Germany, and California to see and also participate in Mule Days.

For a complete schedule of this 67-year-old event visit www.bensonmuledays.com, call (919) 894-3825, or e-mail the Benson Chamber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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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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Stroll Around Historic Smithfield

Stroll Around Historic Smithfield

Historic Downtown Smithfield now has a walking tour that highlights historical buildings, houses, and monuments. The Johnston County Visitors Bureau has designed and printed a brochure regarding the walking tour in partnership with the Johnston County Heritage Center. The brochure includes a map of the downtown area with each stop numbered. In addition, the Heritage Center has provided notes on the historical relevancy of each site. Points of interest like parking, visitor information, dining options, and the Ava Gardner Museum are also pictured on the map.

According to Heritage Center Director Todd Johnson, “taking the Historic Smithfield Walking Tour is not only a healthy activity but will teach you about our town’s history going back to colonial times.”

Johnson mentions that Smithfield offers a wide variety of architectural styles such as Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Second Empire, Colonial Revival, and Gothic Revival. There are several buildings on the tour that have stood since the Civil War, and each one has its own story to tell.

The purpose of creating guides like this one is to showcase the stories and heritage of historical towns like Smithfield. The walking tour adds to the options of things visitors to Smithfield can do and encourages them to discover local businesses along the way like shops and restaurants.

With Fall approaching and the evenings cooling off, visitors and locals alike can explore the walking route for themselves. The walking tour offers a chance to discover something about Smithfield that wasn’t known before. For example, the portion of the Smithfield courthouse facing Market Street was constructed in 1921, but the land that it stands on has been occupied by courthouses since the late 1700s. That’s more than 3 centuries of law and order in one location.

To learn more about these fascinating places or to pick up a brochure for a self-guided tour, please drop by the Heritage Center, 241 E. Market Street, anytime between 9:00AM and 5:00PM, Monday through Saturday. You can also download an electronic version of the walking tour guide on the Johnston County Visitors Bureau website.

If you’ve got friends or family coming into town, or you’re looking for an activity to go with your next office or corporate event, you can also inquire about guided tours of the historic walking route. To schedule a guided tour, call the Johnston County Heritage Center at 919-934-2836, or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   

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2015 Visitor Impact Numbers for Johnston County Released

2015 Visitor Impact Numbers for Johnston County Released


Visit North Carolina announced this week that domestic visitors to Johnston County spent $221.72 million in 2015, an increase of 3.2 percent from 2014.

"Not only did our visitor spending increase in calendar year 2015 as the results of the VisitNC study indicates, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau continues to invest in tourism development projects. Last year the bureau awarded $70,000 in Capital Grant Projects, as well as, completed the county-wide Parks & Recreation Study, spearheaded the Smithfield Wayfinding Project, and grew the membership of the JoCo Hospitality Association," stated Donna Bailey-Taylor, President/CEO.

A top priority from the above mentioned County-Wide Parks & Recreation Master Plan is to hire a Recreation Director and complete the 14-mile stretch of the Mountains to Sea Trail between Clayton and Smithfield.

Tourism impact highlights for 2015:
•    The travel and tourism industry directly employs more than 1,770 people in Johnston County.
•    Total payroll generated by the tourism industry in Johnston County was $34.65 million.
•    State tax revenue generated in Johnston County totaled $12.46 million through state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income. Approximately $5.55 million in local taxes were generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses.
•    If not for the $18.01 million in state and local taxes paid by tourists visiting Johnston County, each of the 60,700 county households would pay $297 more in taxes to replace tax revenue generated by tourism spending.

Gov. Pat McCrory announced in May that visitors to North Carolina set a record for spending in 2015. The $21.96 billion in total spending represented an increase of 3 percent from 2014.
These statistics are from the “Economic Impact of Travel on North Carolina Counties 2015,” which can be accessed at partners.visitnc.com/economic-impact-studies. The study was prepared for Visit North Carolina by the U.S. Travel Association.

“All eight economic development regions of the state had spending growth of 2 percent or more, and 91 percent of the state’s counties saw direct tourism employment growth from 2014 to 2015,” said Wit Tuttell, Executive Director of Visit North Carolina. “Tourism continues to be a major driver of economic development across North Carolina, which is the sixth most-visited state in the country.”

Statewide highlights include:
•    State tax receipts as a result of visitor spending rose 6.1 percent to top $1.1 billion in 2015.
•    Visitors spend more than $60 million per day in North Carolina. That spending adds nearly $4.9 million per day to state and local tax revenues (about $3.1 million in state taxes and $1.8 million in local taxes).
•    The travel and tourism industry directly employees more than 211,000 North Carolinians.
•    Each North Carolina household saves $475 in state and local taxes as a direct result of visitor spending in the state.

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau oversees the marketing efforts for the county to attract and serve visitors, therefore increasing the economic impact for the local economy. The Visitors Bureau is fully funded by the 3 percent hotel room tax paid by overnight visitors to the county.  In addition, the Towns of Benson, Kenly, Selma, and Smithfield have a 2% occupancy tax that is managed by the Visitors Bureau and is dedicated to each town's marketing efforts.  

If you are interested in learning more the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, visit the website, www.johnstoncountync.org. In addition, visitors and locals to Johnston County alike can always find out what’s happening in the area by visiting www.johnstoncountyevents.com which lists detailed information on festivals, entertainment, and fun happenings in JoCo through out the year.

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Tourism Director Celebrates 20 Years with JCVB

Tourism Director Celebrates 20 Years with JCVB

Donna Bailey-Taylor, Director of the Johnston County Tourism Authority, recently celebrated 20 years in her position. I sat down to ask her a few questions about how Johnston County's tourism industry has grown over the two decades since she started working to bring tourists to JoCo. I also asked about her experience in the Travel Tourism industry and what she thinks the future holds for tourism in Johnston County.

You’ve been at the JCVB for 20 years, but how long have you worked in the Travel and Tourism industry?

So all together I have been in the hospitality industry for thirty-five years. I began my career working in the hotel industry, first in sales for Hilton Hotels and later working for hotel development companies in regional sales and marketing.  I have opened hotels from the ground up and traveled extensively to support sales efforts for multiple brands.

As I started a family, the need to get off the road was important to me, so I transitioned to work for a convention and visitors bureau.  Since I was used to promoting whole communities and selling experiences, the move was a natural fit for me.  

What drew you to this industry?

After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in Industrial Relations, the jobs available to me all seemed to be in manufacturing or banking.  Also, it was 1981 and the unemployment rate was 22% in North Carolina.  I tried hotel sales and found out I was good at it!  I discovered I enjoyed meeting people and providing a service.  

What keeps you in this industry?

The variety of tasks each day continues to make my job rich and enjoyable.  From designing the next ad campaign or revamping the Visitors Guide, then community planning for new wayfinding signage or working with area museum boards to provide engaging visitor experiences….it’s diverse and ever changing.  I don’t think I could do the same task day in and day out.  

What has changed in tourism for Johnston County over the course of 2 decades?

With Johnston County being one of the fastest growing counties, not only in North Carolina but in the nation, tourism has grown fast as well.  When I started here in August of 1996, our annual operating budget was around $325,000 and today it tops $1.2 million.  Tourism marketing today has changed tremendously with the creation of social media, hand-held marketing devices we call mobile phones, and the niche marketing campaigns needed to reach the right customer, at the right time, with the right message.  

I would have to say 20 years ago, having billboards and a visitors guide were our primary goals, and today our marketing plan targets leisure travelers, sports tournaments, girlfriend shopping get-a-ways, and culinary travelers with the development of the Beer, Wine and Shine Trail.

What challenges do rural destinations face in marketing themselves?

Funding and staffing resources are often the first challenges because there never seems to be enough of either in small Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs).  And second, getting the attention of community leaders, state offices and residents on the importance of tourism to the community.  Our industry is made up of small businesses, but collectively visitor spending in hotels, restaurants, travel services, dining, shopping and area attractions is huge…it’s a big deal and in some rural communities it may have the potential to be their number one industry.

What have you accomplished at the JCVB that you’re particularly proud of?

Tourism development projects where our staff has volunteered countless hours helping to establish the Ava Gardner Museum, the Benson Museum of Local History, marketing for the Bentonville re-enactment, completing the county-wide Parks & Recreation Master Plan, and serving on many boards to lend our talents to the tourism industry…I feel this has been a grass-roots effort to build up the tourism infrastructure in the county.  You don’t see that commitment in many bureaus, who only see their job as driving visitors to the area.  In an emerging destination, building up the visitor experience is so important.  We want to be more than a stop-over on the way to some other destination – and more than “half-way between New York and Florida”.  

What would you like to accomplish still?

I would like to see the completion of the Mountains to Sea Trail between the towns of Clayton and Smithfield and the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site get a new state of the art Visitor Center with new exhibits, something the Friends of Bentonville group has been working on for many years.  

Also, I would like to see the Visitors Bureau secure a permanent home for our offices, as we have been renting space for more than 25 years.

You have family roots in the Benson area, what does working to promote Johnston County mean to you?

To me, this job is more than working to promote Johnston County – my heart is full of wonderful memories spent on the Bailey Farm just outside of Benson.  I feel we need to work toward preserving our heritage, whether it be farming, Civil War battlefields, or our connection to Hollywood.  That’s why over 12 years ago, we held classes on agri-tourism as a way to sustain the family farm and bring revenues to area farmers.  That’s why I continue to volunteer my time and talents to area non-profits.

I believe if we all work together we will all succeed!

How does tourism positively effect residents in Johnston County?

Tourism means dollars for small business owners – in 2015 more than $215 million was spent in Johnston County by visitors.  If the county did not have a strong tourism economy we would not have national brand shopping at our fingertips at Carolina Premium Outlets and dining opportunities like Starbucks, or Chipotle’s which just opened in Smithfield this year.

But just as important to us is showcasing local, independent business owners like Ray Wheeler at Atkinson’s Mill, Rufus Brown at Johnston County Hams and many others that have wonderful stories to tell. Visitors are interested in authenticity and we have plenty to share with them in Johnston County.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

Something creative is my first choice…painting, pottery, and photography to name a few.  Watching movies with my son Trey and reading detective novels on my IPAD.  Nothing fancy… for me, spending time with family is just a perfect day!  

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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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Meet the Author with Susan Schild

Meet the Author with Susan Schild

I get to introduce a lot of artists on this blog - Johnston County artists with talent in music, painting, pottery, and other mediums. But it isn’t often I get to share with you “word” artists. Susan Schild is one such word artist that calls Johnston County home. An author out of Clayton, Susan writes stories about good Southern women who make the best of everything life throws their way. Her books are hopeful, with settings and themes that will feel very familiar to people who love small town living in the south.

Linny’s Sweet Dream List is the first in the three-part Willow Hill novel series about a woman trying to rebuild her life. You can e-read the book or order a paperback copy of it through Amazon or Barnes & Nobles. There are a lot of relatable themes to the Willow Hill series, the second of which comes out August 2nd. The first book finds Linny Taylor at a low point in her life. At almost 40 she’s been widowed twice, once by a man who stole her heart and once by a man who stole everything else. Now, lonely and broke Linny has to find a way to set her life back on course and discover joy again. And so, the sweet dreams list is born. With help from her family, friends, and even a loveable stray Linny just might find happiness and even love again.

I cannot stress enough what a great read this book is. Just the first few chapters have you sympathizing with Linny and laughing out loud at her attitude. What done-wrong, good southern woman hasn’t chucked a glass bottle at a dumpster just once?

It was a pleasure to sit down with Susan to talk about Linny’s Sweet Dream List, love, and writing. The thing I noticed and loved about the book is the fact that Linny is 38, and yet the book is about her turning her life around and finding happiness and trying to love again. I feel like a lot of readers want to see fiction that closely follows their own life and women are waiting longer and longer to settle down. More women are also getting divorced or are, sadly, widowed and trying to find love again. It’s nice to see these realities reflected in print.

Susan explained what she wanted to convey to her readers through Linny’s struggles, “I think that sometimes love doesn’t come in the packages you want it to come in. Love can happen at any stage in life and at any age. Linny is in her late thirties when the first book opens and she’s been widowed twice. The last husband swindled away their money. It’s a low point in her life to be loveless and broke. But, Linny makes a plan to grow out of that and to keep looking for the joyful things in life. In that sense, I wanted her to be relatable and her circumstances to be relatable. That way readers could cheer her on through the bad and the good. I always want my books to have hope as a running theme.”

I asked Susan about keeping the hope in her books even though the first novel opens with such intense loss, “I do think it happens that way in life, that bad things happen in twos and threes but then good things happen too. And good people keep doing the right thing and life turns around.”

If you’re interested in how Linny turns her life around, read the first book ASAP to get ready for the second one – coming soon. They are full of humor and quirky people. For those familiar with Johnston County and the Clayton area, Linny’s hometown will have some vague familiarity to it. Willow Hill is a small town right outside of Raleigh, North Carolina and the characters mention places like Morehead City and other destinations.

Linny comes off the page as such a well-rounded character, flawed but fighting. I asked Susan if there was any of her in Linny, “I don’t think I set out to put any of myself into my characters, but I also have had a lot of neat women friends over the years. I used to be a therapist, so I see things in people that I put into my characters. So, in that way, Linny is a lot of things that I got from a lot of people, even myself.”

Susan started writing 10 years ago after wanting a career change and attending a writing workshop. I asked about her writing process. Is it more throw darts at the board or more detailed plot and characterization spreadsheet? She said, “it used to be free-form. But in the industry now your publisher and your agent and your editor want more from you then I have an idea. So I have, over the years, become a very big out-liner. Out-lining everything you’re going to write before you write it keeps you on the path. I write every day and the outline keeps me from wondering.”

Whatever methods she is using, it’s working. Linny’s Sweet Dream List has 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon reviews and some enthusiastic reader reviews. Adjectives used include charming, funny, moving, and witty. Be sure to pick-up an e-copy or a paperback of Susan’s first and soon to be second book to give this wholesome, sunny southern fiction a try.

If you’d like to meet Susan Schild for yourself, the Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library in Clayton will be hosting a Meet the Author Event on Tuesday, August 9th from 5:30PM to 7:00PM with a Q&A and even some giveaways.

Thanks for taking the time Susan, Johnston County’s proud to claim word-smiths like yourself.

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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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Benson Announces Hampton Plans

Benson Announces Hampton Plans

It was announced yesterday in a press conference that Benson is getting a hotel right off of I-95 at Exit 79. The news is being received enthusiastically by the community, in part due to the boost it will bring in economic vitality but also because the town and surrounding area are in need of additional accommodation options. Adam Leath, representing the hotel developer Leath Co LLC, and Benson Mayor William Massengill discussed the project at the press conference before revealing that the hotel would fly under the Hampton Inn flag and also presenting building plans to the public.

Leath spoke to the project as something that the town and the county could be proud of, which Massengill echoed had become something of a measurement for Benson's community projects in the last few years, " we want to ask of ourselves, not simply will this project benefit the town, but will it be something that community leaders and members can be proud of."

If the design and atmosphere of the hotel discussed are anything to go by, it will certainly be a contributing addition to the Benson community and the group of hotels that welcome travelers all over Johnston County. The Hampton Inn in Benson is designed for families, tourists, and corporate travelers alike. The 88-room hotel will deliver an atmosphere for a comfortable work environment and a restful stay - including 8 suites, free Wi-Fi in public areas, free in-room high-speed internet access, a clean and fresh Hampton bed®, Hampton’s free hot breakfast, flat screen televisions, complimentary beverage areas, guest laundry, elevators, a fitness center, and an outdoor heated pool.

 The hotel will also offer accessible and pet-friendly rooms with plans already approved by the NC Department of Transportation to install a free-range dog park directly across from the hotel. In addition the hotel features a 1,000 sq. ft. conference center with the latest audio-visual technology and media equipment.

We here at the Johnston County Visitors Bureau are excited about the added room availability that the Hampton will add to our county and the Benson area. Building the Hampton Inn in Benson means it is located less than 20 minutes from Campbell University, 45 minutes from Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU), and 25 minutes from the Johnston County Airport. In addition, as readers of this blog know, Benson has been growing its tourism assets this year thanks to the continued growth of Broadslab Distillery and the opening of GALOT Motorsports Park - both located less than 5 miles from the new hotel site. In fact, 2015 statistics show that 19 million new dollars in private investment went into Benson last year.

During the press conference Mayor Massengill spoke to this growth and the hotel announcement as proof that Benson's leaders and citizens are working to develop Benson into an attractive place to live and visit, "this project is proof of what happens when the private sector, government, and non-profits work together." Adam Leath said that the Leath company, " looks forward to the partnership with Benson and providing a service that is needed in the community." The company anticipates breaking ground in November of 2016 and hopes to open to guests in Fall of 2017.

The news to build a Hampton Inn in Benson comes on the heels of the grand opening of the Country Inn & Suites in Smithfield and proves that Johnston County continues to grow as a tourism destination in North Carolina and along the I-95 corridor. The continued development of Johnston County's economic development and tourism assets means better options for travelers and prosperity for community members.

Stay tuned to our Facebook page and the Visit Benson website for updates on this project as they become available.

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Meet JoCo's 'Que Competition Master

Meet JoCo's 'Que Competition Master

In eastern North Carolina we like our barbeque simple. You could call us purist. Whole hog. Pulled. Splash of vinegar. But the great thing about barbeque is its tendency to be geographically dependent. If I say barbeque in Tennessee or in Texas or in Oklahoma, there's no telling what's gonna end up on my plate. It makes for some confusing moments, some great eatin', and some intense competitions.

Johnston County resident Jerry Stephenson Jr. knows all about intense competition, he enters about 17 to 24 KCBS competitions a year; for the un-indoctrinated that means the Kansas City Barbeque Society. The KCBS is the world's largest organization of barbeque and grilling enthusiasts to the tune of over 20,000 worldwide members. Jerry is one half of a winning barbeque cooking team called Redneck Scientific, the other half being his sister. They grew up on a farm in eastern NC and Jerry says he learned his 'que skills from watching others cook whole hogs, "I just watched and learned. Then I cooked pigs myself later in college for the fraternities, sororities, and the rugby team for extra spending money."

Jerry says that he loves the simplicity of the whole hog approach to barbeque, a man after my own heart, "Low and slow cooking over coals that are burned down from logs. The coals are shoveled into precise places to cook the hog perfectly." Although Jerry likes to tiptoe out of my simplicity circle, going one step above vinegar to put a little Texas Pete on his pulled pork sandwich. That, he says, is his favorite type of barbeque. Fair enough. Although the Oklahoma relatives on my mother's side politely disagree.


Going Whole Hog


But how does one go from being a barbeque enthusiast to a barbeque master? Well, you sign-up and then you hope for the best. Jerry started cooking competitions with homemade barrel smokers that he also sold. He eventually trademarked the name of the ovens to Redneck Convection Ovens or RCOs. The name of his team and business, Redneck Scientific, was derived from these homemade smokers. With the help of the RCOs Jerry won a top ten nod in ribs during his first KCBS competition. In the next competition Redneck Scientific got 2 top ten nods in pork and again in ribs. Jerry says he was hooked.

"I still remember the first Grand Championship we won in 2011 at Squealin' on the Square in Laurens, SC. We placed top ten in all 4 KCBS categories (chicken, ribs, pork butt, and beef brisket)." Though Jerry was raised on the whole hog life, he enters all categories when he cooks. And often wins at them. And he doesn't deviate from the process he has for cooking each type of barbeque, whether it's pulled pork or brisket.

"My competition starts on Wednesday night when I make sauces and rubs for that week’s competition. On Thursday night I trim all of our meats and load our trailer to leave the next day.  Typically, we like to arrive around noon on the day before a competition. Once we arrive, we have our meats inspected and then inject some of the meats. Around 10 pm that night, I light my smoker and go to bed.  I usually get up sometime between 2AM and 5AM and put my big meats on. My competition day then begins at 5AM with a schedule that I follow every single time."

Sorry folks, that's as detailed as you're gonna get. A magician never reveals his tricks. I can tell you that all of Redneck Scientific's meats are procured locally. But any good competitor knows that a certain amount of superstition goes into the process, "I wear the same Superman shirt that I wore at my first competition, but I'm not really superstitious beyond that. My sister is a whole other story."

The female 50% of Redneck Scientific maybe has some winning history behind the superstition. Jerry's sister, Roxanne Manley, uses the ancillary contests at the barbeque events to showcase her skills as well, beating out 350+ teams at last year's American Royal World Series of BBQ to win Side Dish Champion. You go girl!

Rounding out the Redneck Scientific team are Jerry's wife Liz Stephenson and their two daughters Elle and Fiona. They all travel together to competitions as far away as Las Vegas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Redneck Scientific has been competing since 2011 and has had their name called in at least a top ten placement or higher over 200 times. That's a lot of wins, folks. Jerry creates his own sauces and cooks on Backwoods Smokers. The team is sponsored by Royal Oak Charcoal, BBQ Guru controllers, Oakridge BBQ rubs, Q Company Backwood Smokers, and Mojobricks.


Getting a Taste of Redneck Scientific


I know what you're thinking. How can I get my hands on some of this amazing barbeque? Well, I've helpfully posted up the Redneck Scientific schedule below. In addition, you can have them cater your next event. Yes, you can have Redneck Scientific personally feed up to 2,500 of your friends and family.

"We offer full service catering all over the Triangle area.  We have an established group of clients we feed each year.  We can cater for 25 or 2500+ people. Our catering menu can be found on our website. I’m also a 50% partner with a friend out of Charlotte and we vend up and down the East Coast at festivals.  Our vending company is called “The Redneck Bubba” after his BBQ team (BubbaJacks) and ours (Redneck Scientific) and you can find more information on that at www.RedneckBubba.com."

So, what is in the future for Jerry and his team? A restaurant perhaps? In Johnston County? He says that I, and everyone else, will have to wait and see, "I can't speak to a restaurant just yet, but the future of the competition team is my two little girls. They're already clambering to cook a meat or 2 in competition. Hopefully, they'll take over and I'll just get to watch like my Dad used to."

Well, if indeed a restaurant does happen I will be the first in line with a fork in my hand. In the meantime, Jerry has a ton of competitions lined up and a lot of cooking and winning to do this year still. While I would recommend a nice Double Barley or Deep River brew to go with your que', Jerry is ever the traditionalist, "I just think it goes really well with sweet tea." That's what I told my Oklahoma relatives about brisket and they almost made me sleep in the storm cellar. Just kiddin'.

Jerry is an eastern North Carolina traditionalist about another thing too, the bonds that keep him tied to barbeque and coming back to compete year after year, "Learning to cook whole hog at an early age left an appreciation in me for the unique taste of eastern NC pulled pork. But, more than that, it impressed upon me the camaraderie and fellowship that comes from standing around a pit."

Cheers to that and good luck this year!


Redneck Scientific Schedule


DC BBQ Battle  6/24 Washington, DC
Deep River Brewing vending 6/30 + 7/3
Festival of Discovery 7/8  Greenwood SC
Smoke in the Valley  7/22  Maggie Valley NC
Pigs and Pedals  8/5  Asheboro, NC
Sams Club Richmond VA  8/12
Sams Club Charleston SC  8/26
Low Country Fest 9/2 Charleston SC
Beak Week 9/9 Goldsboro NC
Tilley HD Bike Blues and BBQ  9/16 Salisbury NC
Butts and Beans  9/23  Newton NC
Squealin in the Square  9/30 Laurens SC
East Carolina BBQ Throwdown  10/7  Rocky Mount, NC
Smoking in the Foothills 10/14  Lenior NC
American Royal World Series of BBQ  10/28 Kansas City, MO
Hog Happenin  11/4  Shelby NC
World Food Championships  11/11 Orange Beach, AL

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1853 Hits

301 Endless Yard Sale in Full Swing

301 Endless Yard Sale in Full Swing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today was the first of two days in which thousands of shoppers and hundreds of vendors come together for 100 miles of yard sales. This year is the fourth annual 301 Endless Yard Sale and it's off to a great start here in Johnston County. Visit 301EndlessYardSale.com for a map and more information.

Here are just a few pictures from our first day exploring the route in Johnston County!

This cute teal door is perfection! How many tutorials can you find on what to do with it?



If you collect antique vending machines, be sure to check out the 301 stretch between Benson and Four Oaks.



Going somewhere? Just love vintage luggage? Both?



Glass bottles, or really glass of any sort seems to be very popular this year. Lots of vendors are selling these.



Don't forget to go into the antique and vintage storefronts in downtown Selma and Benson, they've got great stuff too.



Lastly, remember that your husband called, and he said to spend as much as you want. What a great sign, right?



Other participating counties include Halifax, Nash, Wilson, and Harnett. Be sure to explore as much of the sale as you can tomorrow, and don't forget about the locally owned restaurants along the 301 route. There are some delicious treats hidden among all those treasures.

Be sure to keep up with the sale and all there is to find by searching for and using #301EndlessYardSale on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

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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

meeting venue with presentation screen

Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?

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Group Tour Operators

girl with camera in travel group

Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.

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Hotel Packages

hotel bed and pillow with johnston county logo

We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.

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FREE TRAINING

 

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