When you bite into a delicious, juicy strawberry during the winter months, it’s likely you’re enjoying fruit that was grown in Plant City, Florida. With more than 5,000 acres of strawberries in production, approximately three-quarters of the nation’s winter strawberries come from this single community. But Plant City hasn’t always been the fruit and vegetable breadbasket that it is today.
Although many assume the city was named for its abundant crops, it actually takes its name from railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, who built the South Florida Railroad that connected the center of the state with the east coast in the mid-1800′s. With the completion of the railroad, farmers were able to shift from cotton production to more lucrative fruit and vegetable crops. Over time, strawberries became the primary crop, earning the city the nickname “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.”
The community honors this heritage with its annual Florida Strawberry Festival. Scheduled for February 26 through March 8, 2009, this year’s festival features an incomparable lineup of country and western stars, including Mel Tillis, George Jones, the Gatlin Brothers, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jake Owen, Taylor Swift, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, Brenda Lee, Jessica Simpson, and Kool and the Gang, among others. Headliner Jeff Foxworthy has also been booked this year. Fans will identify with his unique “You might be a redneck if…” brand of comedy.
One of the more popular events at the festival is the is the annual scholarship pageant for the selection and coronation of the Florida Strawberry Festival Queen and her court. At the Neighborhood Village, fairgoers can view homemade and handcrafted items created by local residents. During the two designated Senior Citizens’ Days, seniors are invited to attend free concerts by the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra (February 26) and the Guy Lombardo Orchestra (March 5). Other events include livestock and agriculture displays, a baby contest and parade, a huge carnival midway, kiddie rides, Granpa Cratchet and his Golden Rule puppet show, and the hilarious Robinson’s Paddling Porkers.
The events, entertainment, and displays are extremely popular, but the food is always the biggest hit at the festival. Strawberry shortcake, strawberry milkshakes, strawberry sundaes, strawberry cobbler, and strawberry ice cream are just some of the ways to sample the local specialty. For purists, just plain strawberries are available for purchase by the flat or quart, as are live strawberry plants.
Photos courtesy of Florida Strawberry Festival
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels