Saturday, April 8, 2017

Improving an Agricultural Celebration by Adding a Whole Hog Cookoff

Homegrown in the Park, an annual festival in Burlington, NC, was begun by the Farm Bureau of Alamance County as a way to “bring the farm to the city” by holding a farm day in a city park. Previously, the bureau had offered tours of neighboring farms to educate the public about local agriculture.

Several teams created an inviting atmosphere at their cook sites that added to the ambiance of the festival.

The county has become increasingly urban, led by the growth of Burlington, its largest city, and Graham, the county seat. In recent decades, the population of the county has grown by as much as 20 percent. Farms have been lost as new residential areas have been created. Because many residents live in the county but work elsewhere, it is often described as a “bedroom community,” and appreciating its agriculture is important because the number of its farms have declined by 70 percent over the last century.

Impressive trophies were taken home by the finalists.

In its first three years, the festival drew increasingly large crowds by offering educational exhibits and displays to celebrate local agriculture -- music and free food were additional enticements to attend. For its fourth year, the festival was expanded to include a whole hog cookoff, and sanctioning by the N.C. Pork Council was obtained so finalists could advance and compete in the state championship, the culmination of the Whole Hog Barbecue Series.

Barbecue chopped by a team after being judged was served on plates to the public.

The whole hog cookoff seems to be exactly what the festival needed to complete its celebration of the county’s agricultural traditions and heritage. Barbecue from the cookoff is served to the public, and nothing brings out a crowd like excellent barbecue cooked by competitive teams. For its first cookoff, the festival attracted 14 teams. Although several had not competed in the Whole Hog Barbecue Series before, they all produced superior barbecue. The three other judges and I were impressed with how most pigs were scored high in areas of skin crispness, brownness, moisture, and appearance.

The pig cooked by Blue Pig BBQ, now in shambles after being judged, took home first-place honors.

With a whole hog cookoff now a major part of the festival, Homegrown in the Park is guaranteed to continue to grow and attract large crowds as its organizers and sponsors celebrate local agriculture.

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