Agri Appreciate Days celebrates 21st year

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Ozarks Area Agriculture Appreciation Days will celebrate their 21st year this weekend.

Stanley Norris, the Agri Days coordinator for the Green Forest Chamber of Commerce, said the annual event began more than two decades ago as a get-together to honor Green Forest's agricultural community.

"We started this so Green Forest could have some sort of holiday or event each year, and it's worked out pretty well," Norris said. "It's a day that everyone can take off and come to town, and a lot of people will visit with folks they haven't seen since last year's Agri Days."

Agri Days started as a prospect steer and heifer show, Norris said, expanding over the years to include a working stock dog demonstration, a horseshoe pitching tournament and a feeder lamb show. A meat goat show, he said, was added in the last couple of years.

"We try to go in the direction of the pull, as I like to say. We don't try to create something that's not there. A few years back people said they wanted to have a meat goat show, so we said 'OK' and got one started," Norris said.

The horseshoe pitching contest and stock dog demonstrations have been big hits over the years, he said.

"We've got one of the biggest horseshoe contests in Northwest Arkansas now," Norris said. "Local businesses chip in added money for it, so we've got several hundred dollars going just towards the tournament."

Gerald and Pala Farmer of Farmer in the Deli in Berryville organize the tournament each year, he said.

"Gerald pitches horseshoes, so he and Pala take care of the tournament. They do an excellent job with it," Norris said.

For the working stock dog demonstrations, he said, owners bring their border collies to Agri Days and let people watch as the dogs work cattle, sheep and goats.

"Sometimes they'll even bring a few ducks, and the dogs will sort the ducks," Norris said. "We've only missed having the demonstration one year since starting. It's a popular event."

The Green Forest Cowboy Church also sponsors a stick horse rodeo each year for kids, he said. The little kids get on a stick horse and start bucking, Norris said, and winners are chosen.

"They're all winners, really. It's just a fun event for the kids to participate in," he said.

Agri Days have also become well known for the food and entertainment they offer, Norris said. Each year there is a free barbecue lunch on Saturday and free watermelon Saturday afternoon. Tyson has also started sponsoring a free chicken dinner on Friday afternoon, he said.

"Tyson really takes charge of that dinner. They do all the cooking and serving. They'll probably make about 600 to 700 chicken dinners this year," Norris said.

He said the food is one of the major draws to the event. The barbecue lunch on Saturday is handled by Kirk Powell and his crew, Norris said.

"We buy the meat, and they do all the cooking and arrangements," he said.

Politicians take care of all the serving for the barbecue lunch, Norris said. From candidates running for governor, senator, mayor or sheriff, they have all dropped by at some point over the years to don an apron and dish out barbecue to the people, he said.

Norris said his daughter and wife also serve kettle corn at the event. He said he had always wanted to have kettle corn available, but nobody would bring a machine.

"I ended up buying one, and my daughter and wife sell it. We've done that for years and years," Norris said. "It's the only event we do, even though we've been invited to others."

For entertainment, Loree Blackburn coordinates the music each year, he said. Norris said Blackburn and her family are professional entertainers who travel around entertaining "snow birds" who travel to the Gulf Coast during winter.

"Loree brings our sound system and sets it up. She's very talented herself. She plays a lot of instruments and is a good singer," he said. "She's the glue that ties our entertainment together."

Robbie Bell, a local singer, has also performed each year, Norris said. This year's headliners will be Spring Street Bluegrass on Friday and the Clay Self Band on Saturday, he said.

One new event is coming to Agri Days this year, he said. A mule-jumping demonstration will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 4.

Norris said the tradition of mule-jumping got started by people who needed to get their mules over a fence while coon hunting.

"They would teach their mules how to jump, so they could throw their coats over the top bars of these fences and have the mule jump over them. Now they've got regular events featuring high-jumping mules," he said.

He said the high-jumping mule demonstration this weekend is one of the best mule-jumping exhibits in the country.

The rest of the agenda will largely be the same as in past years, Norris said.

"It it ain't broke, don't fix it. What's been working for 20 years still seems to be working for us," he said.

Norris said the event would not be possible without its premier partners, businesses who have donated a minimum of $500 to fund the event.

"We always encourage people to look through the Agri Days books and shop with these people. They're the ones underwriting this whole thing. They make it possible," he said.

Norris said the event has been a great project for the community to work on together over the years.

"It's something for people to look forward to from one year to the next. When we first started we didn't have a goal for how many years. It's ended up going for over 20 so far," he said.

Norris continued, "As long as we have interest from the community and an active committee, I expect it will keep going for a long time. It's all about the people in this area and the county support."

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