VALDOSTA -- Brothers Ed and Ivory Lucas haven't missed a Ham and Egg Show in more than 46 years, and were two of the 47 youth and adults who entered country-cured hams, along with 22 dozen eggs, for judging in this year's show, held Tuesday at the Lowndes County Civic Center.

The Lowndes County Ham and Egg Show started in 1950 and the Lucas brothers have entered every year since 1957, bringing their children up in the farming tradition, and still farming the same land off Val Del Road in Lowndes County that's been in their family for more than 100 years.

"This is what it's all about. This show has been very inspirational to the farmers, and it's really improved the quality of the hogs," said Ed Lucas.

Lowndes County Extension Agent John Saunders started the show in 1950 as a way to recognize black farmers and preserve traditions, and has continued today through the participation of third and fourth generations of the original families, with youth encouraged to participate.

Back for judging the hams this year was retired Fort Valley State University extension program leader, Dr. Glenwood F. Hill. Using his nose, Hill is considered one of the last experts around in judging the quality of a country-cured ham.

During the show, he had several hams pulled from the judging line as he determined they'd been improperly cured just by inserting a metal probe into the meat and smelling it. Sure enough, when Lowndes County Extension Agent Calvin Willis cut the hams open, the meat close to the skin was the proper pink color but the meat close to the bone was brown and tainted.

When asked what would happen if you tried to eat the tainted part, Willis said it would make you sick, and even if cooked, still wouldn't taste very good. "Dr. Hill is the only one I know who can tell the difference just using his nose," Willis said.

The hams ranged in size from 17 to 20 pounds, and Hill graded them as good, choice or fancy, with only the fancy hams continuing on to the grand champion judging. This year's Grand Champion Ham was entered by Leroy Colson with Therus Brown as Reserve Champion.

The eggs were judged by Johnny Mixon and Ronnie Lott of the Georgia Department of Agriculture's Consumer Protection Division using the tried and true method of candling, or holding each egg up to a special light, to determine the quality.

"The larger the air sac, the poorer the quality," said Mixon. "We're looking for the best overall dozen, and if even one egg in the dozen is bad, then we go on to the next. We're trying to eliminate the ones with problems to find the best dozen eggs."

The Grand Champion Egg prize went to Laura Lucas with the Reserve Champion honors going to Martha Lucas.

Attending the show were fourth and fifth-grade students from Southeast Elementary School. Their teacher, Linda Foster, said she brought the students because the "ham and egg" theme seemed a natural tie in to Dr. Seuss' birthday, honored by schools nationwide on March 2.

Also watching the judging were representatives from some of the oldest farm families in Valdosta, along with the Lucas brothers, who have very strong opinions about the state of farming today, especially for small farmers.

"These big companies want the little farmers to stop raising hogs and vegetables, but we won't stop," said Ed Lucas. Ivory Lucas said, "People think the cost of meat is high now, but if the small farmers go out of business, they're going to be paying a lot more."

Willis said the importance of the show in Valdosta, which is the last one of its kind in the entire state, is to keep the focus on these small farmers and to provide them the recognition and encouragement to pass along to the next generation.

"This year our youth participation was up about 35 to 40 percent over last year," he said, adding that the whole purpose is to keep agriculture alive. "This show brings together the entire fiber of the community."

The Ham and Egg Show continues at the Center today with an auction at 2 p.m. conducted by Donald Patton of Lakeland.

To contact Busines

s Editor Kay Harris, please call 244-3400, ext. 280.

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