Evolution of events: Clemmons continues to add a variety of community gatherings throughout the year

Published 12:10 am Thursday, March 28, 2024

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Think back to the early days of the Clemmons Farmers Market when it seemed like just family and friends gathered on an open field at Tanglewood Park to check out the local produce.

That was 2014. When it came to events and communications in the village, that was it.

“The Clemmons Farmers Market had started, but the village did not have any additional events then,” said Shannon Ford, marketing and communication director in Clemmons.

Flash forward nearly a decade later to Clemmons Community Day where combined with the farmers market, thousands were in attendance on the grounds of the Jerry Long Family YMCA in 2023.

Now, the farmers market is just part of an extensive lineup of events with multiple offerings on the calendar each of the 12 months and a goal of having something for everyone.

On the communications side, Ford remembers back when the farmers market was just cranking up when there was no social media and the contact list was basically the sunshine list. 

“I remember there was some hesitancy in entering the realm of social media, but here we are with multiple Facebook pages, a Nextdoor channel, LinkedIn, YouTube and an Instagram account,” Ford said. “We had a big milestone this year — we reached over 8,000 followers on our official Village of Clemmons Government Facebook page. In the past month alone, we have reached 133,098 just with our three Facebook pages (Government, Wonderland, Farmers Market).

Certainly, things have changed quite a bit since Ford was brought aboard in March 2015. She had been involved with other government positions and was working at the time in B2B marketing.

Megan Ledbetter, the village planner at the time, was a personal friend, and she asked Ford to meet with Larry Kirby, who was then the village manager, as he and the council were considering some type of new marketing or communications role.

“During my meeting with Mr. Kirby, he explained what he envisioned someone filling that role to accomplish,” Ford said. “I explained some ways I thought they could be effective and gave some examples and explanations of ways I had been involved with other government entities to engage the public. In a flash, and the next thing I know, Mr. Kirby was asking if I would consider working for the village. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think I had just been interviewed.”

Ford said she wasn’t actively looking at the time but missed that “people connection as a public servant” and decided to apply for the position.

“The day I dropped off my application, Mr. Kirby led me into a conference room full of people, and the next thing I know I was in another interview,” she said. “He is the only person that has ever been able to walk me into an interview twice without me knowing, but I am beyond thankful. This was the third time that I had walked into a newly created position to not only work but to also create, so it wasn’t quite as daunting for me. I was ready to get to work and begin implementing a few things. The only way this was possible was with an administration, mayor and council that trusted me to try something new. And that continued support is the reason why we are where we are today.”

Ford continued to start adding events and finding new ways to communicate over the coming years until 2020 when COVID arrived, and things changed for everyone.

“Everything that we were doing to communicate was amped up times a thousand,” she said. “People were home waiting for communication. And they wanted it immediately. Events took a halt except for the Clemmons Farmers Market. I became the market manager in 2019. We ran the 2020 market with an entirely new set of rules and guidelines. Thank goodness for our incredible partnership with the Jerry Long Family YMCA that gave us space to social distance. The market, despite the restrictions, continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Once 2021 rolled around, things were not going back to how they used to be. The bar had been set for the amount and speed of communication. There was no way I could be successful with keeping up that pace and bringing back events.”

Ford admitted to stalking social media at the time and was constantly wowed by Morgan Elementary PTA events that were posted on their Facebook page.

“They were incredible, and then I met their president at the Clemmons Farmers Market, Lynette Fox. Fortunately, administration and council again saw the need and value of events and opened a position. I approached Lynette having no idea if she was even interested in working. She said ‘yes.’ Most people who know us think we have been friends forever, however I really didn’t know her at all. But the next thing I know we were working together like peas and carrots, or as some may say Thelma and Louise. Not only did I get lucky, but the community won with that hire. Lynette has taken any event that I have ever created and turned it into an entire experience. Her creativity and craftiness can be rivaled by none.”

Although the farmers market has been around the longest, Ford said the highest attended events include Monster Dash and Goblin Hop with an estimated attendance is around 5,000, the annual tree lighting estimated around 2,000, and pop-up markets at the farmers market an estimated 2,000-plus.

“Our events continue to grow and change,” Ford said. “Each year we look at attendance and interest to see what should be repeated, tweaked, or maybe skipped. Lynette has a brand new plan for a Christmas in July event this year, and I cannot wait to see where it leads.”

One event that turned out to be a big hit was an ice cream festival held in conjunction with the farmers market.

“It’s the old adage of ‘if you build it, they will come.’ ” Ford said. “We had cloggers, a local bluegrass jam — basically show up and bring an instrument, kids crafts like potato stamping and a homemade ice cream contest. With that success, we began to try other new things such as movie nights and bringing back the tree lighting. All of these things have moved around, but the community has followed.”

Ford said that her favorite thing about the tree lighting is the special guest that lights the tree.

“It always moves me to tears,” she said. “Another favorite event that was created is the annual Monster Dash and Goblin Hop around the greenway. It’s no secret, and I tell everyone that the lake/greenway is my very favorite spot in Clemmons. That moves into the recent action by the council of intent to acquire property adjacent to that. Pinch me, seriously. While I can envision exactly what I want to see at that area, I am beyond excited to hear the community’s thoughts. I do think everyone will agree on one thing at that area, permanent restrooms. I am an outdoors event fan, so I would love to see something more accommodating for a variety of events for all ages.”