NEW MADRID -- In an effort to raise community awareness of the resources it offers, the New Madrid County University of Missouri Council will conduct a fish fry this weekend.
The fifth annual fish fry will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
"It started five years ago when we had a budget crunch, and the community came together to show us support and keep the office together," said Jeff House, agronomist for the local extension.
The fish fry was such a success, it became a yearly tradition in the community.
"It's a good time for fellowship and just to touch base with everybody," House said, adding even residents from Columbia come to New Madrid for the fish fry.
And it's a time to educate the public about the Extension office, House said.
Some of the services offered for farmers through the Extension include pesticide applicator training, crop training, information on various pesticides and crop conditions monitoring, House said.
New Madrid County Extension Council Chair Tim Hunter said the agriculture conferences House conducts on various topics like crops, irrigation and new technology are very beneficial to farmers.
"I've been farming for 28 years and the technology has really, really changed. ... In order to stay in business, we have to be abreast of technology and Jeff holds these conferences to keep us updated," Hunter said.
Also the Extension coordinates with the Delta Research Center in Portageville to conduct agriculture research in the county, and the Extension also controls the 4-H club, House said.
"The Extension is very important (to the county) because Jeff goes out and checks all the farms (if he's asked to). He checks for insects, plant damage and plant disease. He also helps gardeners and visits their homes in town," said Robert Henry of Robert Henry Merschman Seeds Dealer in New Madrid.
But the Extension is not just about farming, Henry said.
"There's a lot of aspects to it," Henry said. "If people are not aware of what the extension is for, there will be posters and someone there to talk to them. I know most of people in town with flower gardens don't realize the Extension is there if they have a problem," Henry said.
The University of Missouri provides half of the Extension's funding and the county provides the other half so money raised from the fish fry benefits the Extension office and the free services it provides.
Local community members and farmers help put on the event.
"It's the best catfish you'll ever eat. This catfish was caught this week and is dressed and shipped to us on ice so it's never been frozen.
But the ingredients used to coat the fish are a secret, House said.
"It's a lot of work, and I cannot underscore the amount of effort they put into this," House said.
Henry and Milus Wallace cook all the catfish fillets for the event which normally services between 200 and 300 people.
"The place we get the fish from harvest them on Wednesday and are processed at Tunica, Miss. They're delivered here in the morning hours (on Thursday)," the seed dealer said. "What makes them so good is they're covered in a saltwater lemon juice solution. It's the best fish I've ever eaten."
Cooking usually begins around 4 p.m, Henry said.
"We have big cookers and every 10 or 15 minutes, we have 30 to 40 pounds of fried fish," Henry said, adding homemade hush puppies, french fries and tomatoes are also on the menu.
Meanwhile, Hunter said it's important to support the Extension to assist the agriculture community.
"That's why these land-grant universities formed," Hunter said. "The government started them to help the farmer and do agriculture research."
Open to the public, plates are $8 for adults and $5 for children under 5. Carry-outs will be available. For more information call 748-5531.