A berry good time
Farmers are taking truckloads of their juiciest strawberries to downtown Ponchatoula to sell to hungry visitors at the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The festival takes over Ponchatoula’s Memorial Park with two stages of live music, strawberry-eating contests, sack races, rides, auctions, food vendors and a parade — all in honor of the state’s official fruit.
As one of the region’s most beloved family-friendly events, the Strawberry Festival can draw crowds of around 300,000, so 2014 spokeswoman Cheri Barnes advises families to beat the crowds and come Friday when the festival opens at 4 p.m. and the lines for the rides are short.
“It started over 40 years ago as a small street fair where the strawberry farmers sold their berries and a few non-profits, such as the high schools, churches and civic organizations, sold food items or products as a fundraiser,” Barnes said. “It really caught on, and it blossomed into a big event, which is now about honoring the strawberry farmers.”
Right in the midst of the February to May strawberry season, festival-goers can purchase flats of strawberries for an average price of $14 directly from Louisiana farmers, who will be parked along farmers’ row and the surrounding streets.
Food vendors will offer treats created with the fruit.
“There are so many strawberry dishes ... strawberry shortcake, chocolate-covered strawberries, strawberry beignets, strawberry pie, strawberry cake, fried strawberries. If you can imagine it, someone will be selling it,” Barnes said.
All the non-profit vendors will be set up in Memorial Park, which for some organizations is the main fundraiser of the year.
“All food sold by the non-profit organizations is priced under $10,” Barnes said. “We do not allow any for-profit vendors on the official festival grounds, which is at Memorial Park.”
Festival-goers will be out early on Saturday morning scrambling to catch the signature throws of strawberry-themed doubloons, beads and candy from the Strawberry Festival Parade that starts rolling at 9:30 a.m.
“There are a lot of strawberry-themed trucks, marching bands and royalty. We have had as many as 90 floats in the parade, but it usually has around 50 floats,” Barnes said.
As the crowds are fixated on the passing parade, farmers will be entering their best, juiciest, most presentable berries in a flat for judging.
“Judges will award a grand champion, second and third place and all the berries that were put up for judging will be auctioned off on stage,” Barnes said.
At 4.30 p.m., an auctioneer will start bidding on the grand champion berries, working his way through each flat until every berry that was entered in the contest has been auctioned. Proceeds go straight back to the farmers.
Sunday will get under way with the Strawberry Strut 10K and 1-mile fun run, open to all ages; participants can preregister online at active.com or on the morning of the race.
Parking is always at a premium, organizers say. Among possibilities is Boy Scout Troop 164’s large, fenced-in and secured parking lot at Elmer’s Candy, 401 N. 5th St.; for $10.