May 16, 2008

For the third year in a row, beef will be on the minds of Mercer Countians June 5-8 when they welcome visitors to the Fort Harrod Beef Festival, a four-day celebration of Kentucky’s beef industry at the Mercer County Fairgrounds and Old Fort Harrod State Park.

Kentucky boasts the largest inventory of beef cattle east of the Mississippi River. For that reason, Mercer County veterinarian LeMayne Ellis, who is co-chair of the event, said that they’ve designed the festival not only to celebrate beef on the hoof and on the plate, but also to educate people on the importance of the cattle industry in Kentucky. To do that, festival coordinators have planned activities to take participants from the farm to the kitchen with events such as team roping demonstrations by the Kentucky Roper’s Association and grilling demonstrations by the Kentucky Beef Council.

It’s not just about beef cattle, though. The dairy industry is also important to the state’s economy. For the second year, the Harrodsburg District Dairy Show will be held during the festival. The event, at the fairgrounds at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 7, attracts 4-H and FFA youth from around the state.

“Kids work with their project animals all year, and it’s the time for them to shine at the district shows,” said Dana Anderson, 4-H and youth development agent in Mercer County and a festival co-chair. “They groom, bathe and clip the animals and hone up their showmanship skills by showing that animal.”

Animals are judged on conformation according to their breed standard. Organizers expect more than 100 entrants at this year’s show, which is sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

Two traditional favorites at the festival will once again take center stage this year: the steak and eggs breakfast and the grill-off.

“If food or drink is involved, it’s very popular,” said Old Fort Harrod State Park Manager Joan Huffman, laughing.

The Saturday breakfast, which costs $6, has grown from 400 people the first year to an expected 600 this year. It’s made available by sponsorships, for which Huffman said they’re very grateful. Breakfast and grill-off income help support the annual festival.

The grill-off is a competition for adult amateur and professional chefs, as well as youth. Entrants vie for prizes in the brisket, steak, burgers and chili categories, which are blind-judged by a group of celebrity judges. In a change from previous years, the chili competition is the night of Friday June 6, because as Anderson put it, “Chili on a summer day is a little too hot.” The other competitions take place on Saturday afternoon.

This year, two familiar faces from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture will join the judging team: Dean M. Scott Smith and Jimmy Henning, associate dean for extension and associate director of Cooperative Extension.

The festival is a collaborative effort between UK Cooperative Extension, Mercer County, Old Fort Harrod State Park, local businesses and residents.

Henning looks forward to the experience since “he enjoys both beef and people,” he said, smiling. “Plus the festival is a good example of how extension is involved in the life of a community, and I love helping agents in any way I can.”

It’s a weekend of community-wide activities, beginning with a wine and cheese tasting at the James Harrod Amphitheater Thursday, June 5 at 7 p.m. The next day, people can enjoy an afternoon picnic in the park at Old Fort Harrod and then an evening of pageant fare at the James Harrod Conference Center and live bands, a truck pull, cornhole tournament and a chili cook-off at Mercer County Fairgrounds. A multitude of events continue on Saturday and Sunday at the fairgrounds and Old Fort Harrod State Park, including among others, a juried arts and crafts fair, more live music, an antique and classic car cruise-in and food and more food.

For a complete events schedule, as well as grill-off and vendor application forms visit the Fort Harrod Beef Festival Web site. Applications for the district dairy show are available here.

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