Friday, June 22, 2018
News Roundup

Florida Strawberry Festival's hometown values create fun

PLANT CITY

I didn't get it at first.

The rides, fried Snickers bars, Frisbee dogs. The kids in strollers. People stopping and staring, holding up the line.

You pretty much can guess what's coming once you pass through the turnstile.

One fair, or festival, is pretty much the same as the next.

That's what I thought.

But that wasn't what Paul Davis, general manager of the Florida Strawberry Festival, was talking about when we sat down in his office a couple months ago.

This is the Florida Strawberry Festival, bigger than the Florida State Fair in Tampa and second in size only to the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach.

Piles and piles of weird fried stuff come with the territory.

So do dizzying rides, grandmothers looking to rest their tired feet and dads wondering whether to get something sweet now or after lunch.

The Strawberry Festival has all of that. More than most fairs, in fact.

But even that wasn't what Davis had tried to convey to me.

So on Thursday as I walked through the festival doors for the first time, along the midway and past the food vendors, inhaling deeply the aroma of fried candy bars and Oreos, I looked for signs to remind me of what Davis talked about.

"Until you see a little kid sleeping against a pig, you don't really get it," he had said.

What Davis meant is that the Strawberry Festival isn't like most fairs because it wraps its identity in the city's history as an agricultural community. The rides and acres of weird, fried concoctions aside, it's still, after more than 80 years, an agricultural fair.

A slice of Americana, he said.

An almost forgotten slice.

I walked over to the Madonia Agricultural Center, following the crowd to the livestock area where dozens of pigs and cows were penned up, exhibited by 4-H and FFA kids.

I strolled the aisles, then noticed one pen in particular.

Peering down, I saw that slice Davis was talking about. Taylor Grimes, a teenage girl and a member of the Tomlin Middle School FFA in Plant City.

She was crashed out, splayed across her 224-pound pig, Cupcake, who seemed equally bushed.

Most festivals don't have crashed-out Taylors and Cupcakes.

A Strawberry Festival moment. A Plant City girl and her Plant City pig, both blissfully asleep.

There were more such moments to occur. They rolled out after I left the ag center. Plant City on display.

Next up, the North Exhibits Hall.

As I headed inside, thinking about Taylor and Cupcake, I saw 2013 festival Queen Kelsey Fry, red blouse and white pants, a glittery rhinestone crown on her head.

She was trying on sunglasses, hunting for something with enough bling to match her crown. She found a pair, all glittery on the sides.

"You can engrave your name on the inside," she said.

She was gracious and obliging, as were the ladies of the court that accompanied her, looking equally elegant.

Nearby, festivalgoer Linda Messina stood with her daughter-in-law, Tammy Athey of Plant City, and three of Athey's children, the littlest on her hip.

Athey asked whether the queen and her court wouldn't mind a photo with Karson, 9, and Kaden, 3.

No problem.

The girls smiled. The younger boy stood in front, waist-high to his brother. Athey clicked away.

You couldn't help but smile. Sweeter than a fried Oreo.

I finished the day watching the Lumberjills, a group of chainsaw-wielding, log-rolling ladies who put on 30-minute shows at the northeast corner of the festival grounds.

I got there 15 minutes early, climbed up the grandstand, sat and ate a $5 pulled-pork sandwich.

Roy Petticrew, 73, and his wife, Mona Petticrew, 72, sat to my left.

They were from a little town north of Toronto called Keswick, where they run a small chicken farm.

So who's minding the chickens? I asked.

"Oh," said Roy, "they're all cleaned and taken care of. They're in my freezer."

We laughed. That's one way to clear your calendar, I said.

We chatted some more, mostly about how we hadn't seen anything quite like the Strawberry Festival, then settled in for the show.

It was their first time at the festival. Mine as well. Afterward, Roy made a comment about the Lumberjills and how it's tough enough just getting a chain saw started.

More small talk, a handshake, then we headed out.

Nice people, I thought. Easy going. No ice to break.

Then I remembered one other thing Davis had said.

"If you come here alone, without a friend, you'll make one before you leave."

He might just be onto something.

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.

Comments
Ronald Darby’s friend: Jameis Winston got into second Uber ride alone

Ronald Darby’s friend: Jameis Winston got into second Uber ride alone

New details emerged Friday night about the Uber ride in Arizona in March 2016 that led to Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston's three-game suspension to start the upcoming season, including the fact that Winston was in a car that night with a former Vand...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

TAMPA — Police want to know who shot 14-year-old De’Nico Thomas after a night of playing video games.Thomas was at a friend’s home Wednesday night and walking home when Tampa police said he was shot, resulting in life-threatening injuries.As he faces...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Carlton: That snake-like thing living under your refrigerator? It’s a skink. Welcome to Florida

Carlton: That snake-like thing living under your refrigerator? It’s a skink. Welcome to Florida

At first I thought it was a snake.Because wouldn’t it be typically Florida to come home and find a snake poking its nose out from under your stove? Which wouldn’t be a problem or anything. I would just have to move out is all.But no, the creature tha...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Man, 78, proposes to newfound love at ‘senior’ prom in Riverview

Man, 78, proposes to newfound love at ‘senior’ prom in Riverview

RIVERVIEWJaime Rodriguez, 78, popped the question Friday morning but skipped the "getting down on one knee" part."If I get on my knee, you’d have to help me," he told the emcee a moment before asking Luz Rivera to marry him.Rivera, 69, smiled and sai...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tampa Bay workforce development initiative looks to Houston for lessons

Tampa Bay workforce development initiative looks to Houston for lessons

The biggest hospitals in Houston had a problem.To earn a prized institutional certification, they needed more nurses with bachelor of science degrees in nursing.But local colleges were more focused on turning out nurses with two-year degrees who, to ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Lightning re-signs backup goalie Louis Domingue to 2-year deal

Lightning re-signs backup goalie Louis Domingue to 2-year deal

The Lightning has re-signed one of its restricted free agents in backup goalie Louis Domingue, who will be back with Tampa Bay on a two-year deal worth $2.3 million.Domingue, 26, was acquired from Arizona in November after he had posted a 4.33 goals-...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Health care IT company CareSync shuts down, laying off 292

Health care IT company CareSync shuts down, laying off 292

TAMPA — The days ahead were supposed to be bright.For weeks, the future of health care tech company CareSync had been thrown into question as founder and CEO and founder Travis Bond unexpectedly departed, kicking off multiple rounds of layoffs. But t...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six local candidates across Tampa Bay — all county commissioners and city council members — effectively won their elections Friday by default: No one qualified to run against them.The rest still have a fight.Some will square off in an Aug. 28 primary...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Romano: You better hope I’m wrong about flood insurance

Romano: You better hope I’m wrong about flood insurance

Chances are, I’ll go down as the Boy Who Cried Flood.You might have noticed, I’ve been shouting about the imminent calamity of flood waters for quite a few years now. If I wasn’t trying to frighten you into buying flood insurance, I was worrying you ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Delta bans pit bulls as service dogs, sparks backlash

Delta bans pit bulls as service dogs, sparks backlash

ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines says it’s no longer allowing passengers to fly with "pit bull type" dogs as service or support animals, a policy that’s being met with criticism by groups that train service dogs and the people who use them.The Atlanta-based...
Updated: 5 hours ago