By Sherrie Norris
We all know that food is a huge draw to most festivals, but there’s just something extraordinary about the food that goes hand-in-hand with a country fair.
Valle Country Fair, always held on the third Saturday in October —and falling this year on Saturday, Oct. 15 — is no exception, and as one of the state’s premiere events, attracts thousands of visitors from near and far.
Hosted by Holy Cross Episcopal Church, in cooperation with the Valle Crucis Conference Center, the event raises money to support local non-profit organizations and offer assistance to local families with emergency needs. Friends of the Valle Country Fair highly anticipate this event from year to year, returning for the unique/juried crafts, demonstrations (apple cider pressing and apple butter cooking!) entertainment and yes, of course, the food that has developed a reputation all its own.
So, What About That Fair Food?
In no short supply each year, the Brunswick Stew, barbecue, chili, sausages, burgers and dogs are always huge hits with the fairgoers, as is the apple butter and its cousin, the apple cider, sold by the cup, as well as by the gallon.
Let’s not forget the amazing baked goods and canned items including jam, jellies and pickles that folks like Dedy Traver, ‘the Jelly Queen” work on throughout the summer. And nobody knows apple butter better than Walter Pitts, who along with this “Apple Butter Boys” get the fire going beneath their big copper kettles way before daybreak on fair day every year. After hours of stirring the bubbling hot concoction familiar to mountain folks and desired by people everywhere, Pitts and his hard-working team of volunteers ladle the smooth spread into their canning jars by early afternoon. And, it disappears just as quickly.
“Jams & Jellies, Apple Butter and Apple Cider are institutions in our church,” a spokesperson shared. “Sacred you could say. Unfortunately the 1940s-era cider press is getting pretty rickety. We don’t know how many years that booth can continue as it is.”
But, we’re all hoping it will be a long time!
So, whether you want to eat at the fair, take home a sample of the valley’s finest — or do both as most of us do — you have multiple choices to satisfy practically every palate. What’s more, most of the food vendors have been part of the fair for many years and are a huge part of the event’s success.
We’ve been told by long-time participant, Brenda Lowman, “The Sausage Factory delightfully serves grilled kielbasa, bratwurst, and portabella sandwiches on a warm hoagie roll.”
But, that’s just part of the story.
“While the meat is grilling, we sauté 90 pounds of onions and 90 pounds of bell peppers that complete the sandwiches! The members of the Sausage Factory have been volunteering for the fair for many years so we are a fun, well-practiced group. We proudly wear our sausage hats, some of which are labeled: Onions and Peppers?, Grill Master, Bun Warmer, Sausage Party, and my personal hat — Sausage Boss.”
Lowman and her team expect to serve 800 sandwiches on fair day with the first sandwich available by 9:30 a.m.; the last sandwich is usually served at 3 p.m. They also sell Coke products and are happy to be offering Mananalu water this year, which will enable them to avoid single-use plastic bottles.
Lowman concludes, “Fair day is one of our favorite days of the year and we hope everyone will come by the Sausage Factory for a delicious sandwich and cold drink!”
A Family Affair for the Gallahers
For Mike and Debbie Galleher, and their daughter, Ashley, volunteering at Valle Country Fair is a family affair and has been since at least 1994.
About 15 years ago, Mike and Debbie assumed the management of the barbecue and Brunswick stew production, organizing their team of volunteers who help serve, as well as working closely with the Asheville-based Moe’s Original BBQ; Moe’s comes to town early to start working on about 1,000 gallons of Brunswick Stew in the kitchen of the Valle Crucis Conference Center on Monday prior to the fair, and smokes about 1250 pounds of pork butts on site.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Debbie, “But we wouldn’t have it any other way. We have volunteers serving from both sides of very long tables and we have people already standing in line early, like mid-morning, and we serve until mid-afternoon.”
Member of Holy Cross Church, along with her family, Debbie shared, she served on the mission and outreach committee for several years. “I saw first-hand how the proceeds of the fair were used. I took the calls from the community, those people asking for assistance for themselves or for others, so I know that side of it all. People who come to the fair and might be uncomfortable in a line of traffic for a few minutes have no idea just how far-reaching our efforts are, and just how many people we are able to help throughout the year with the proceeds from the fair. Because of that one day event, we can help people 365 days a year. And those of us who are committed volunteers will work our tails off for this as long as our bodies are able to do it. We absolutely love being a part of this fair.”
The Gallaher’s daughter, Ashley, utilizes her booth, one that she assumed last year, as a way to keep the memory of her late brother, Adam, alive, as well as support the nonprofit organization, Smile On ADG, in his memory.
Selling breakfast items —biscuits and coffee, in particular — Ashley, like other vendors, tithes 10 percent of her proceeds to the church, while contributing the remainder to the fund, which was established in 2013 following her brother’s death.
The organization provides funding for musical instruments and band equipment, in addition to supporting the welding and automotive departments of Ashe, Avery and Watauga County High Schools.
Since its inception, the fund has distributed over $152,000 in scholarships and grants.
“It has been very beneficial to our family,” said Debbie. “We can help so many young people follow their dreams in these areas that Adam held dear, while giving us a chance to talk about him and keep his memory alive. It has been more beneficial than we could ever have known.”
The fair committee pointed out that Ashley, at 34, is “the youngest of the lot” and began selling cold drinks at the fair when she was in Sunday school.
“Ashley brings the rare point of view of a kid who grew up at the fair and now has a leadership role,” we’re told.
More About Valle Country Fair
This year marks the 44th annual Valle Country Fair with 150-plus exhibitors expected to be on hand to sell their original handmade creations. Among those artisans are 14 who will be debuting their products this year, joining others who are no strangers to the fair, including four who have participated for at least 20 years.
According to the folks behind the scenes, John Dean of Valle Crucis has been selling poplar bark birdhouses, bird feeders and berry baskets for 41of the 44 years — since the community celebration began. Scott Deming of Butler, Tenn., has been bringing his sculpted wood art pieces for 31 years. Brenda Schramm of Boone and Joyce Albrecht of Hilton Head Island have each participated in the Valle Country Fair for 20 years, with Schramm selling red stoneware pottery and Albrecht offering gourd bowls.
“Although there may be several booths selling work fashioned in the same artistic medium,” said arts and crafts committee co-chair Carolyn Shepherd, “Each artisan was selected because they have a unique style and point of view that differentiates their work from the others.”
Exhibitors submit to a jury process designed to make certain that all work meets the fair’s primary requirement “to be original in design, form, and concept,” as well as to ensure that shoppers will have a wide variety of artistic media to choose from.
“We have shoppers who come each year to see what new work their favorite exhibitors have added to their portfolios,” added Shepherd, “and others who come to see what kind of wares folks who are exhibiting for the first time bring to the mix.”
“A surprising number of the artists tell us that this is their favorite show,” Shepherd said. “And these are people who travel across several states attending multiple shows a year.
“They like the people and the atmosphere, and they like the reason our community works so hard to put on a quality event,” she added. “The artists appreciate that net proceeds from the fair go back into the community to help those less fortunate. As a show of support for the mission behind the event, the artists donate 10 percent of their earnings back to the charitable work of the fair.”
During its four-decade history, Valle Country Fair has raised more than $1 million for human services and emergency relief in the High Country. Last year, the fair gave $55,000 back into the community through grants that support the programming of local non-profit organizations and through financial assistance to local families with emergency needs.
Recipients of grants from the 2022 Valle Country Fair are the Watauga County Children’s Council, Girls on the Run, High Country Caregivers, the Jason Project, LIFE House, the Mediation and Restorative Justice Center, Mountain Alliance, Reaching Avery Ministries, Spirit Ride Therapeutic Riding Center and Watauga County Schools Extended Learning Centers.
All remaining proceeds are distributed by the outreach committee of Holy Cross Church to help local families.
The “big news in 2022” organizers have told us, is that a second entrance to the fairgrounds was added last year, which helps eliminate traffic congestion in and out of the fairgrounds.
“Traffic improved by a landslide,” said Captain Carolynn Johnson of the Watauga County Sheriff’s Department. “Having two entrances practically eliminated time spent sitting in long lines of cars and, for the most part, kept traffic flowing continually.”
During the morning hours, traffic managers direct vehicles off NC 194 and onto the fairgrounds via two different gates, meaning that fairgoers spend considerably less time in traffic waiting to get into the event. When traffic arriving at the fair slows down around mid-day, the second gate is converted into a second exit, allowing cars departing the fairgrounds to get back on the highway quickly and easily.
The one-day event is held in a large field located alongside NC Highway 194 between Valle Crucis and Banner Elk. Admission to the Valle Country Fair is free and parking is available in the adjoining field for $10 per car, $25 for a small bus or van, and $50 for a motor coach. No pets are allowed. For more information, contact Holy Cross Church at 828- 963-4609 or visit the Fair on the Web at www.vallecountryfair.org.