Taking a snack break from the strawberry shortcake booth, bearing my fresh red, white and tan filled bowl, I amble over to where my friends are seated.
While they contemplate which ride to hop in line for next, I take a look around me. The aroma of roasted turkey legs fills the air, and I'm surrounded by spirited screams and laughter coming from all directions.
I think about all the people around me, and how much fun they're having. They are taking in every ounce of the festival, and thoroughly delighted by it all.
Taking note of my distraction, I pick up my fork and stab my strawberry shortcake. The crisp slice of strawberry, smooth whipped cream and spongy shortcake bring me right back into a distraction.
Everyone gathers here just for this piece of dessert sitting patiently on my fork.
The famous Plant City strawberry is a sweet reminiscence of the meaning behind my little town. This juice-engorged fruit is the reason we are here, and it brings me into a proud state of mind.
My family, friends and I put a copious amount of time into this affair, and from a teenager's perspective, our hard work pays off. Plant City's Florida Strawberry Festival is my bantam town's largest event, and we are proud to celebrate the berry in America's strawberry capital.
Teens annually work together to make this festival successful. Being mature enough for input but young enough to still be limited on what we can contribute, we do as much as we can.
The job begins in the strawberry fields where the fruit is grown. Sunglasses and hats on sunburned shoulders and backs, these teenage strawberry-pickers undergo long days to prepare for shipment to places in the community, like my church.
Here, my job is to wash buckets and berries to make sure they're ready for consumption, then my church and I head out to the booths to embark in building our strawberry shortcakes.
Across the street from the fairgrounds is my old school: Tomlin Middle. Students take hours out of their day, weekday or weekend, slip into reflective vests and pick up their flags. When cars start rolling in, tourists are sure to recognize the proud young teens waving them into a space.
When the gates open, my excitement builds as the first little girl races to me behind the counter of my booth. She gingerly requests one slice of strawberry shortcake, and all of our preparations are worthwhile the moment she eyes the bowl.
This is what we wait for all year, every year. Knowing we are just teenagers raised in a small Southern town, everything we do is for the ear-to-ear smiles we receive from the people visiting Plant City for our festival.
To them, it's a fair for mirth and entertainment. For us, it's our time to be proud of ourselves and take in the rewards of each day's long stint of work.
The Strawberry Festival is the time and place where Plant City's community comes just a little bit closer, and getting involved is a way we good ol' strawberry-picking, car-parking, shortcake-making teens remember the importance of our home.
Focusing back on the fork in my hand, I admire the work my friends and I put into this event.
The fair signifies a deep importance to us, and to everyone in Plant City. We all look forward to spending hours on end preparing, and then sliding into some dark-wash jeans, a T-shirt and a nice pair of svelte brown boots to enjoy the fair.
Our strawberries and the festival are the two attributes that we take pride in, and being raised in this itty-bitty city, it has become a part of who we are.
We absorb the excitement, smiles, laughs and adrenaline.
We count down the days in school, have our teachers sign our permission slips as volunteers, save up money for tickets and wait patiently for the highlight of our year.
The Florida Strawberry Festival will stay with my community and me for a lifetime.