Jammin’ in Plant City

It’s that time of year again — time to celebrate “king strawberry.” The peak of the picking season brings with it the freshest strawberries that can be found.

These tasty red berries are made into mouth-watering treats such as strawberry pie, strawberry shortcake, strawberry elephant ears and strawberry shakes. The berries can also be dipped in chocolate or made into jam. All of these strawberry delights and more can be found at this year’s 68th annual Florida Strawberry Festival.

The festival, which runs from Thursday until March 9, offers a wide variety of strawberry treats, as well as carnival rides, livestock competitions, homemade goods and professional entertainers, said Patsy Brooks, general manager for the Florida Strawberry Festival.

In 1930, the Plant City Lions Club came up with the idea of a festival to celebrate the plentiful strawberry crop. This festival was successful and remains a Plant City tradition today. During World War II, the festival shut down and was re-opened six years later in 1948 by the American Legion Post #26. Festivities have taken place with the help of volunteers every year since then, Brooks said.

This year’s theme is Let Freedom Ring.

“A patriotic theme has always worked well for us,” Brooks said. “The theme is appropriate, and it gives us a lot of symbols that can be incorporated into the different booths and parades.”

There are three different parades organized by the Strawberry Festival. The Youth Parade, which takes place March 1 for children under 18, the Grand Parade on March 3 that goes through Plant City, and the Baby Parade on March 8, which allows children under the age of 4 to participate in the fun, Brooks said.

Every day during the festival is different, and on opening day, General Mills, with the help of David Cassidy (best known for his song “I Think I Love You”) will nationally debut new Berry Burst Cheerios with real slices of strawberries at the Strawberry Festival, Brooks said.

The other nine days of festivities offer a variety of free entertainment, as well as some popular country musicians who the public can buy tickets for, Brooks said.

“We start planning the Strawberry Festival a year in advance and try to guess who will be hot next year,” Brooks said. “We replace two or three acts per year to offer visitors something new, but entertainers have such a good experience here and the audience appreciates their performances so much that performers come back year after year.”

This year will be the first year that the Florida Mass Choir, a gospel choir, will perform. It will also be a first for Grupo Vida, a Tex-Mexican band, and Florida Opry, a blue grass band, Brooks said. Country music acts for this year’s festival include Vince Gill, Randy Travis and Martina McBride.

The Chinese Acrobats will perform for the third year in a row, while Barnyard Petting Zoo and Robinson’s Racing Pigs are also back to entertain visitors.

The Strawberry Festival encourages a family atmosphere and tries to include activities and entertainment that adults and kids will like.

There are quite a few agricultural competitions during the festival, and kids get a chance to participate in some of the categories, such as the poultry competition and the rabbit competition, Brooks said. Other agricultural competitions and shows include a lamb show, beef breed show, steer show and even a dog competition.

If agriculture isn’t exciting enough, there are always the carnival rides.

“We are offering a couple of really good deals on the Midway mechanical rides this year,” Brooks said.

From March 3-6 from 3 p.m.-11 p.m., visitors can purchase a band and ride all the rides for $17. The other option is to go on Friday or March 7 after the festival closes and participate in Moonlight Magic from 11 p.m.-3 a.m.

By purchasing a $20 band, visitors can ride all mechanical rides all night.

“We want the festival to be a safe atmosphere that people can have a good time at, so there will be lots of security at the festival by the Hillsborough County Police Department,” Brooks said.

Daytime visitors will have their bags searched, and all visitors for Moonlight Magic will be searched.

The Strawberry Festival is located on exit 19 off Interstate 4 in Plant City. Tickets for the Strawberry Festival can be purchased at the gate for $8.

Contact Annie Curnowat oraclefeatures@yahoo.com