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Beef festival draws crowd to a rustic Kentucky area
Kentucky Correspondent

HARRODSBURG, Ky. — In a state that is the largest beef producer east of the Mississippi River and plentiful in a variety of festivals throughout the year, it only stands to reason that a beef festival would arise. Mercer County played host to the premier of Kentucky’s Fort Harrod Beef Festival.

Thousands of participants from all across the region attended the event from June 1-4 to see livestock exhibits, antique tractors and farm machinery displays, concerts, craft shows and,of course, to dine on a multitude of beef dishes.

The festival included the county fairgrounds and Ft. Harrod, which is a replica of the first permanent settlement west of the Alleghenies. The fort, which was built in 1934, is named after Capt. James Harrod and includes pioneer cabins, a George Rogers Clark memorial, a cabin in which Nancy Hanks and Thomas Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln’s parents) were married, a pioneer cemetery and a museum.

While the fort hosted the craft booths, an antique car show and a 5K run, the fairgrounds contained all the livestock exhibits and the grill-off competition where amateur and professional grilling teams prepared steaks and burgers.

Dr. Lemayne Ellis, a veterinarian and co-chair of the event, said the idea of the festival came from the changing agricultural environment and the community’s desire to host a festival like this.

“Tobacco as we have known it has gone by the wayside. That being said, there’s a lot of ground that doesn’t grow other things so beef has become a major commodity for Kentucky,” said Ellis. “Last year the beef industry provided $620 million of revenue. Since there’s nothing for beef like this, a beef festival is here now.”

The Kentucky Beef Council (KBC) provided help with an information booth and beef ambassadors comprised of students from around the state including Ashley Quiggins from Hart County, to provide festivalgoers with information about the beef industry.

“I live on a beef cattle farm where we also raise tobacco and I’ve been involved in FFA and with the Kentucky Junior Cattlemen’s Assoc.,” she said. “My job at the festival is to promote beef and it is events like this that encourage the public and let consumers know what the beef industry is all about.”

Alison Smith, director of consumer affairs for KBC said the festival is a natural fit for farmers in the area.

“Beef in Kentucky is a very large industry. We are eighth in the nation for beef cow production so it’s a natural fit to have the beef festival here and it was a natural fit for us to help and participate since we want to promote the beef industry and beef in general in the state,” she said.

The livestock exhibits brought young people from the region together to present demonstrations and show their top animals. Rob Clark, Jr., 17 years old and a 4-H member, lives on a cattle farm and brought several animals as a way to obtain his 4-H Gold Award and to provide information about his cows and 4-H.

“My 4-H agent introduced the idea of coming to the festival to me, and I took on the responsibility because I like cattle,” he said. “We’re here to provide publicity of the breeds.”

Shelley Wade. of Harrison County and a student at the University of Kentucky, is one of the coaches of the Harrison County 4-H Livestock Team and made the trip to help judge the livestock exhibits.

“I’m hoping my career involves raising cattle and maybe something in bovine embryology because there’s so much of a future with livestock in agriculture,” she said. “I think the key to that is to be a good livestock judge and I’ve been judging since I was nine years old.”

There were plenty of activities to keep everyone busy but the grilling event took center stage as 19 teams fired up their smokers and grills and brought their secret ingredients in an effort to cook the best beef which was provided to the contestants by the festival through the Green River Cattle Co.

Each team could participate in one to three categories. While celebrity judges made the decision for each category, attendees bought bracelets that entitled them to taste food from each team to pick the People’s Choice award.

Ellis said that because this was the first time for the festival every moment was a learning experience; but if success is related to the aroma provided by the beef grills, this festival will be around for some time to come.

This farm news was published in the June 7, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.