Norborne Soybean Festival: POWERING Small Towns

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The Norborne Soybean Festival takes place each summer in the “Soybean Capitol of the World” in Agri-Ready Designated Carroll County. The festival began in 1982 and continues for its 41st year on August 3rd-5th, 2023 with enjoyment for all ages from vendors, exhibits, music, food, and more. The festival serves as a reunion for many and their enthusiasm is contagious to visitors that are passing through. The continued growth and success of this event for the community of Norborne is an example of the POWER of small towns in Missouri.

Agriculture produces almost 50% of the economic output of Carroll County and is the source of nearly half of all household incomes. The Soybean Festival is a way to showcase community togetherness, loyalty to local enterprises, and pay homage to a local economic driver, soybeans. In 2021, the soybean crop of Carroll County contributed to the $164 million value of grains and oilseeds produced there.

Linda Leabo began helping to publicize the Soybean Festival in 1983 and served as secretary of the festival committee before her current tenure as the chairperson of the small town, festival loving group. “We have an excited and enthusiastic committee who are committed to making our event a memorable family affair for all ages. The dedication and commitment of the men who organized our first festival has been a foundation for our continued success today,” Linda said.

Fantastic festivals include fantastic food. The Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC) provides the soybean oil that fries the fish in the Lions Club cookshack, a popular dinner option. MSA will also bring their donut machine and fry donuts in soybean oil. Food trucks provide a varied feast. Festival goers should make plans for the traditional fire department hog roast as well. Live music nearby creates such an enjoyable ambiance so that even waiting in line to eat is a pleasurable experience. 

A festival flyover in the 1980’s would have seen Norborne’s small downtown covered with many farm equipment displays and booths advertising seed dealers. Vendors and community organizations would display their products and projects. Entertainment and carnival rides were available for families for a fee. In 2023, more than 100 vendor spaces will sprawl throughout three blocks of downtown Norborne, adjacent to the climate-controlled Goppert Community Center where there will be displays and exhibitions. Special festival additions for 2023 include a visit from the KC Wolf and a “blender bike” that will make smoothies. Expansive inflatables and games that include a mobile escape room, laser tag, axe throwing, and more are now available for free for families to enjoy. Free activities pay dividends to the festival’s overall success and bring generous sponsors back to the event year after year, Linda says. “It feels good to watch the kids play in a safe area where they can go from game to game free of charge,” Linda said. 

Building a successful heritage for a community festival in a small town of just 700 people presents challenges and learning experiences over the years. Sometimes the August heat threatens to be unbearable, but the addition of the Goppert Community Center provides relief. One year a deluge of rain nearly cancelled the entire parade. “In 1982 the festival started with a local mud wrestling competition. It was hilarious but it quickly evolved into a more tasteful event that we now know as the ‘NIC’s (Norborne’s Interested Citizens) Ha Ha Show’ where a variety of local talent, often featuring the young people of the community, get a chance to take the stage,” Linda said.

A parade culminates the three-day celebration as attendees gather under shade trees along the route to watch old tractors and cars, local high school bands, floats, and so much more led through town by the VFW Color Guard. The parade features King Soybean and the Community Ambassador, two community members chosen each year to be honored for their dedication to the small-town Norborne community and promotion of the Soybean Festival.

The Norborne Soybean Festival is an  excellent example of the POWER of small towns in Missouri coming together to honor their past, celebrate the present, and look forward to the future.