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Despite rowdy weather, North Carolina Honey Festival draws hundreds to Whiteville

Courtesy the North Carolina Honey Festival

The festival, which is in its seventh year, went ahead as planned on Saturday despite the rain.

Columbus County saw a pretty fierce summer thunderstorm last weekend. But A.C. Cutler, founder of the North Carolina Honey Festival, wasn't fazed.

"We always complain about the heat," he said. "Mother Nature gave us a reminder of why we should just appreciate it."

This is his seventh year running the N.C. Honey Festival, which was held this past Saturday in downtown Whiteville. Every September, the festival draws hundreds of people from throughout eastern North Carolina. Together, they learn about the life cycle of the bee, explore the process of beekeeping, and sample various kinds of local honey.

This year, about 35 vendors braved the rain and set up shop on Madison Street, sharing food and music. Local health food shop Farmacy on Main hosted a free tasting of mead, an alcoholic beverage derived from honey, for the festival. The Whiteville branch of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences opened its doors to festival attendees, who stopped by for a series of science exhibits on bees and honey.

Cutler is astonished by how much the festival has grown in seven years

"This was supposed to be a very simple after-church thing that blossomed into a street festival," he said. "Food, vendors, music, a lot of people, permits, a lot of stress, marketing, flyers - it's amazing, though."

The idea for the Honey Festival came to Cutler in 2017. He wanted to do something to honor his father Carl Cutler. Carl had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2015. Through all the treatments, which in time proved to be successful, his father continued to put others before himself.

"And I saw that for my entire life," said Cutler about his father. "At any point, if someone called and said, 'Deacon Carl, I need you to do something,' he's taking off to do it."

His father is well-known in Whiteville for being a jack of all trades — serving in the church, playing basketball, and tending to his fruit trees. But Carl's true passion is beekeeping.

"September is both National Honey Month and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month," said Cutler. "So the idea came together to do something for him."

The festival is also significant, Cutler said, because it's homespun.

"This is not something that was on a list of suggestions for the city to do as an engagement for its citizens. It's not something that Main Street sent us. It's not something that Raleigh sent us. This is something totally homegrown,” he said. “And it pulls in people from Wilmington, Fairmont, Wilkesboro. It pulls in people from hours away to downtown Whiteville. And it introduces people to their own neighbors that are already here."