May 23, 2007 | By: Carol Lea Spence
LEXINGTON, KY.

Beef: It’s what’s for summer – in Mercer County, anyway, where the second annual Kentucky’s Fort Harrod Beef Festival kicks off the season with gusto.

The multi-day festival, a collaborative effort between Mercer County, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, and local businesses and residents, is a celebration of beef – both on the hoof and on the plate. Though many might think of Kentucky as a tobacco-producing state, the fact is Kentucky boasts the largest inventory of beef cattle east of the Mississippi River. For that reason, LeMayne Ellis, a Mercer county veterinarian who is co-chair of the event, said that they’ve designed the festival not only to celebrate beef in its many forms, but also to educate people on the importance of the cattle industry in Kentucky. To do that, festival coordinators have planned everything from cooking demonstrations to grill-off and roping competitions, with some breed exhibits thrown in for good measure. 

“I think we’ll have at least seven or eight breeds this year,” Ellis said. “There’ll be a lot of information about each particular breed and their characteristics.”

But the festival should attract more than cattle producers, said Dana Anderson, 4-H youth development extension agent in Mercer County and co-chair of the festival’s beef grill-off.

“It’s going to be a community festival with lots of food,” she said.

Everything kicks off with glitz and glamour Tuesday, May 29 with Preteen, Teen and Miss Fort Harrod Beef Festival pageants in The Black Box Theatre at Old Fort Harrod. Pageant winners will preside at the weekend’s main events. On Saturday, June 2 at the Mercer County Fairgrounds, there will be additional pageants for the younger set including: baby pageants for ages 0 to 24 months, Tiny Buck and Tiny Buckaroo pageants for boys and girls, 2 to 4 years old, Little Beau and Little Belle pageants for children 5 to 7 years old and a Young Miss Pageant for girls 8 to 9 years old. 

Thursday May 31, the festivities continue at the theatre from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a wine and cheese tasting, highlighting Kentucky wines and cheeses. Tickets to the wine tasting are $50 per couple or $30 per individual. Dress is semi-formal.

“This year, I’m trying to push the Kentucky Proud movement and different aspects of that because of agriculture,” Ellis said. “We’re showcasing two different local wineries, the first one being Mr. Andre Brousseau from Old Crow Inn in Danville (Chateau du Vieux Corbeau Winery) and the second being Ronnie Coulter from Springfield with Rolling Hills Vineyard.”

Cheese from Bluegrass Dairy and Food, as well as hors d’oeuvres such as beef sirloin tips will be served.

The festival really hops on Friday night, June 1 with a concert at the Mercer County Fairgrounds, featuring two local acts and a popular country rock band. Chrys Jones, a senior at Mercer County High school, leads off at 6 p.m. with a show that includes Christian music, hip-hop and rap. At 7:30, local group Wild Roses performs their southern country rock. At 9 p.m., the headline band Cross Canadian Ragweed takes the stage.

“It’s a country-rock-and-blues band from out of Oklahoma,” Anderson said. “They have a big college crowd following, so we’re hoping to get a good crowd for that.”

Tickets can be ordered in advance by dropping by LeMayne Ellis’s Harrodsburg veterinary office or calling the office at 859-734-5546. Advance ticket prices are $12 for adults, $5 for children twelve and under. Tickets at the gate will be $15 for adults and $7 for children twelve and under. 

Saturday, June 2 activities start bright and early at 7:30 a.m. at Fort Harrod State Park and continue all day long at both the park and Mercer County Fairgrounds. It all begins with the Stampede and Poke-along, a 5K race/walk through the streets of Harrodsburg. At the same time, the Rotary Club will be serving up a steak and egg breakfast, sponsored by Kroger, on the grounds of Old Fort Harrod from 7:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. Ellis said he expects to feed 500 people that morning. 

After breakfast, visitors can take in an arts fair with both local and regional artists selling their handiwork. Last year’s fair included pottery, sculpture, clothing, and home décor items. 

A few blocks away at the Mercer County Fairgrounds, professional and amateur chefs will be sharpening their knives and perfecting their marinades for the second annual Grill-off. Categories include beef brisket, backyard burger, steak and beef chili, with all beef provided by 
the Green River Cattle Company. There is a youth division, as well, for those who are 9 to 17 years old. All adult competitors will automatically be entered in the People’s Choice Award competition, where fair visitors, after purchasing a $6 bracelet, may vote for their favorite recipe.

“With that bracelet you will be able to sample food all afternoon,” Ellis said. “I’m not saying you’ll be eating steak all afternoon, but there will be plenty of food for everybody.”

Other activities include professional chef demonstrations by Chefs Mark Williams of Brown-Forman, Allison Smith from the Kentucky Beef Council and Bob Perry, coordinator and consulting chef of the Food Systems Innovation Center in the UK College of Agriculture.

For more information, visit the festival’s Web site, or contact the Mercer County Cooperative Extension office at 859-734-4378.

Contact: 

Dana Anderson, 859-734-4378, LeMayne Ellis, 859-734-5546