Plant City is Florida’s big strawberry area. One of these days I’ll take the girls there for the festival they hold. “Always go to the source,” my dad would say, which is always great wisdom. Of course, that means I’d have to figure out where Plant City is and I suck at geography about as much as I suck at math. Don’t tell the 8-year old that, however, because I’m the one that helps her with her homework. So, until I get directions to the source of the fresh strawberries, we’ll have to settle for the local strawberry festival near our community college.
The Habitat for Humanity sponsors the event in our town and this year they did an amazing job. We didn’t arrive until noon and the place was packed. I never realized so many people had a taste for strawberries. We stayed for five hours and would have stayed longer, except at five they closed up shop. I wasn’t really sure of the reason behind this as with Daylight Savings there was still three hours of light left, but then again, I don’t understand Daylight Savings Time, either. All it does is mess with my sense of time and throw my internal clock out of whack. I’m sure they would have made quite a bit more moolah, but who am I to question the powers-that-be?
The Strawberry Festival is not just about strawberries. There were half a dozen rows of crafters selling their wares to those with a creative eye. This is really why we wanted to go and what we spent the majority of our time exploring. You name it, it was there. Woodworking. Photography. Yard signs. Sand art. Clothing. Steel drums. Jewelry. Sports paraphernalia. And our favorite, the dipping sauce samples. Some of the crafts were amazing, the artists quite gifted.
I love these types of events and, being an indie author, I can relate to their hope and fear of putting their craft out there, hoping someone will take notice and make a purchase. It takes a special courage, not just to make something, but to spend a weekend trying to sell it. There were vendors from all over and it was a pleasure talking to so many of them. I like to support these crafters as often as possible just like the small business owner. I’d rather shop small than with the big retailers because it gives hope to see them succeed against the odds. It’s worth the extra cost to me, and I would encourage you to do the same. For several, it’s how they make their living, traveling from craft show to craft show, and while you may not be able to help all, you can help one or two.
We hadn’t had lunch yet, so the first thing the girls and I did when passing through the entrance was make a beeline for the food tents. Wait. That’s not true. The first thing we did was purchase tickets, which was how you purchased the food. It was a smart idea, really. Keep all of the money in one area so the vendors can just hand out food without worrying about making change. I plopped down fifty bucks, grabbed my forty tickets, and took my growling tummy to the food tents.
Festivals, like carnivals, have a variety of choices. However, unlike carnivals, the food is actually edible. It was almost like the food court at the mall. We could choose between hot dogs and hamburgers or go for the meatball subs. There was barbeque and even a booth that sold nothing but French fries. Of course, there were all kinds of strawberry treats, but we decided to hold off on those until afterward. We had to set a nutritional example for the 8-year old, after all. At least, that’s what the girls told me. I looked at the strawberry-topped funnel cake and sighed as I walked to the condiment tent with my hamburger.
One of the other great aspects of festivals that I enjoy is the entertainment. Sometimes it’s of a professional quality as in a local band or DJ, but most often its dance classes or school bands volunteering just for the chance to perform. While sometimes lacking the polish of more seasoned performers, these small groups excel with heart and passion for their art form.
While we were enjoying our lunch, a local dance studio had their young performers - 4th to 7th grade, it seemed - on the stage, rotating through solo dance and group numbers. I was impressed with several of the routines. So was the 8-year old apparently, as she sat with her pizza halfway to her mouth just lost in the production on stage. She never moved or even blinked. She was as much fun to watch as the dancers.
Once our bellies were filled and grumpiness averted, we toured the craft booths. It’s amazing how often to me such an event can take place and you rarely ever run into anyone you know. The place was filled with meandering people and it wasn’t until the very end that we ran into a couple we knew. My dad couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone he knew. We could be in the middle of nowhere, five states away, and sure enough my father would run into a friend or co-worker. I could sit at the mall for a month and never see anyone.
After spending three hours and too much money touring the booths, my sweet tooth was ready for some strawberry dessert. They had over-priced chocolate dipped strawberries, strawberry shortcake (of course), and funnel cake smothered in strawberries. We got one of each. The funnel cake was the most popular and the line took thirty minutes to get through to the delight waiting at the other end. It was worth it, however, and although I wouldn’t wait that long at Applebee’s for a table, this allowed me a great opportunity to view the other festival goers. Several times, I paused to capture some tidbit in my handy dandy notebook.
Four hours in, foot sore, sun burnt, and exhausted, it was time to give the 8-year old her reward for being a good girl. The strawberries were mine. They had a kid’s area roped off with booths and games for the little ones to play and win prizes. They also had bouncy houses, a petting zoo, horse rides, and a bungee jump (not the adult version). The 8-year old zoomed in on the big three and claimed her reward.
Amusement parks, such as Disney World or Universal, are great. However, I really do prefer the small festivals that celebrate culture, music, or a type of food. It brings the community together through volunteers and support, not to mention the participation. It allows artists a chance to display their creations and admirers a chance to buy them. While the Strawberry Festival is meant to push strawberries, I believe it’s a true celebration of community. In a time when so much seems to want to pull people apart, these events help bring people together, and that’s worth the sun burn any day.
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