KINGWOOD, Va. (WV News) – It’s that time of year when the smell of whole pork sausages and buckwheat cakes draw thousands of people from Preston County and beyond to Kingwood for the annual festival buckwheat.
The 2021 festival will run from Thursday to October 3. However, the easiest way to remember dates is: the festival always starts on the last Thursday in September.
For 79 years, the Buckwheat Festival has been a local staple, and the four-day celebration brings people from across the country together for what is considered a county-wide reunion.
After a year of hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19, the festival will return with plenty of buckwheat pancakes, sausages, parade, rides and games.
Some events have been canceled this year, although organizers hope to bring them back for the 80th festival. For example, events such as the Lamb Dress Up and Ag-Olympics have been canceled due to the close proximity of participants to the activities.
There will be hand sanitizer for use on the festival grounds this year, and organizers are asking visitors to wear masks in indoor venues and keep their distance if possible.
The Buckwheat Festival began in 1938 when local farmers decided to hold a late harvest comeback where they could relax, have fun and enjoy some friendly competition.
The first buckwheat festival was held October 13-15, 1938, and included all-day horse races and a farmer’s auction. The first festival activities took place on the east lawn of the courthouse, and attendees enjoyed sack races, pig calls for women, husband calls, nailing for women, catering contests. , tug-of-war and rolling pin throws.
And while this year’s events do not include Husband Calls, there will be three parades – a Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Thursday will be the annual firefighters parade, starting at 7 p.m. Friday will pay tribute to schools, with the school day parade starting at 2 p.m. And on Saturday, the farmers’ parade, starting at noon.
This year’s Buckwheat Festival will crown King Buckwheat and Queen Ceres at noon on Friday at the Craig Civic Center.
King Buckwheat for this year is JJ Reese of Kingwood, and Queen Ceres is Keely Jo Gregory of Bruceton Mills.
Reese’s family owns an arboreal farm and he looked forward to being crowned and reigning over the festival.
Gregory made the most of her time, and while she looks forward to the festival, she also looks forward to visiting schools and reading to students.
The first buckwheat king was Scott Miller while the first Queen Ceres was Louise Shaw. Seven years later, Scott Miller and Louise Shaw got married.
And the history of buckwheat in the county is rich. Although not a grain, the tiny groats are made into flour to be baked in the thousands of pancakes served on the Buckwheat Feast.
And one of North America’s oldest crops has helped the county’s farmers through some very rough times. Appreciation of the harvest has made the words “Preston” and “buckwheat” permanently linked.
While the name suggests a relationship with wheat and similar grains, buckwheat is actually closer to rhubarb. The tiny dark rectangular shells with white seeds inside come from the flowers of a plant that stays low to the ground and quickly covers fields.
In June 1859, a cold snap destroyed many young crops growing in the fields of Preston County. With little or nothing, many farmers turned to buckwheat, which could be planted until July to get a harvest in October before the cold ended the growing season.
Buckwheat cultivation became popular again during the Great Depression, when the economic recovery was slow and tedious. Local farmers cultivated buckwheat, mainly for animal feed, as an “insurance crop” due to its short growing season and good quality. It was also believed that grain could stimulate agricultural economic growth.
In recognition of the plant that could provide rapid sustenance for humans and animals, a centuries-old tradition for Preston County has been established.