Ayden ready for Collard Green Festival

Ayden ready for Collard Green Festival

It all started as a joke.

A disgruntled Yankee who had moved down South had written a letter to the editor about what she loved about the her new community in Ayden. However, she kept saying how much she felt collard greens were disgusting. As what tends to happen in small communities, people rushed to the defense of their beloved side dish under assault from a Northerner.

At the same time, the Town of Ayden was looking for an idea to host a town festival. Some ideas were tossed out and someone suggested collard greens and joked to have the lady head up the fest.

The town council asked for community help and the residents voted -- overwhelmingly -- to honor the collard. The Ayden Collard Green Festival, now in its 44th year, is the second-oldest festival in Pitt County, after Grifton’s Shad Festival. 

“The festival annually attracts over 10,000 persons and over the course of its three days, the restaurants and businesses greatly benefit from those who visit our community,” Ayden Town Manager Steven L. Harrell said. “Many will experience Ayden for the first time and hopefully will return following their visits to our wonderful eateries and retail shops.”

The festival begins on Thursday with the Miss Ayden Pageant. Carnival rides and vendors will also be present on Thursday. On Friday, the Shimmy Shakers Line Dancers will perform before giving way to the Hip Pocket Band.

Saturday is the main day of the festival when a parade kicks off the day at 11 a.m. Tournaments and entertainers will give way to the festival’s main attraction, the collard green eating contest. At night, Ayden will sing with the sounds of Andro Brown, Men of Faith, Tarrah Walston and the headlining band, The Embers.

The highlight of the weekend is the collard eating contest. Brave contestants will try to pound down as many collards they can in the hot September sun without “giving some back.” The collards are supplied by Bum’s Restaurant, an Ayden BBQ institution. They are grown locally and served at the restaurant every day, using a home recipe.

“The first year that they had the collard festival, at one of the meetings that they held, they discussed having an eating contest,” Larry Dennis, the owner of Bum’s, said. “We had it at our restaurant that first year. It was a huge hit. We couldn’t fit all of the people who wanted to see it. All the rest of the years, we’ve moved it to the pavilion in the middle of town.

"You also have to understand that at the time, people had pie eating contests. That’s really all there was back then. That was over 40 years ago. But collards are a lot more interesting to watch being eaten than a pie. People wanted to see it and that became the big event.”

The community celebration actually began on Friday with the Ayden Community Art Show.

“This is the 10th year we’ve done this,” Sandy Styron, a co-founder of the art show, said. “It exposes the community to a high quality art show made up of very talented people in their own community.”

The art show was held at the Ayden Community Center on Second Street and will be open throughout the festival.

“Everyone is eligible to enter it, including children,” Styron said. "We have field trips coming in from local schools to see the show. We have people coming in from all over Eastern Carolina to see it. Some of the art has even been sent in from people who used to live here and now live in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and even Tampa, Fla. This truly is one of the best art shows around here.”

The festival brings in visitors from all over and Ayden businesses are happy for clientele.

“The festival is an opportunity for our community to shine, to welcome guests to our town and to show off our hospitality,” Harrell said. “Hopefully, the guests will return again and again, not only for the Collard Festival, but to visit our community at other times of the year, as well. 

"We also have an outstanding Christmas Parade the Thursday a week after Thanksgiving and, of course, our one of kind Kings of Q Barbecue Festival and Cook Off in May each year.”

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