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Despite cold, first day of strawberry festival brings high hopes

PLANT CITY — Despite colder-than-average temperatures Thursday, attendees at the opening day of the 75th Florida Strawberry Festival stood in a line that stretched out of a building. Inside was a festival delicacy: strawberry shortcake, piled high with juicy, red berries and fluffy whipped cream.

The festival comes on the heels of the Florida State Fair, which suffered hits to attendance last month due to cold and rain.

Still, vendors and management remained hopeful Thursday about the festival's chances.

Strawberry Festival general manager Paul Davis said he was pleased with the crowd that turned out for opening day.

He noted, though, that the festival was at the mercy of the sunshine. "You can just say a prayer and hope for the best," he said. "We work all year for 11 days, and you really need good weather."

Thursday afternoon was bright and sunny, and temperatures reached into the high 50s.

The forecast is looking up, with milder temperatures next week entering the low 70s by Sunday and Monday, meteorologist Mike Clay of Bay News 9 said.

Henry Towner, who had his Henry's Kettle Korn booth at the fair, said he hoped to improve on his sales as he started his second year at the strawberry festival.

"It's at least sunny, but when that sun goes down, it's going to get brutal," he said.

Already, there were small victories.

Despite a January freeze that threatened to destroy strawberry crops, Brandon Farms brought the same amount of berries to the festival as last year, said Becky Harkins, who ran the booth at the festival.

"I'm just amazed at how big and beautiful they are compared to the weather we've had," she said, pointing at the red berries lined up in crates along the wall.

Jeff Fidler was visiting the festival from Michigan with his wife, Darcy. Dressed in a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt, he said they enjoyed the relative warmth.

"I was going to eat my body weight in berries," he said. But at $3.50 per bowl of strawberry shortcake, he changed his mind.

When he said the shortcake "tastes just like Michigan," the Fidlers' friend, Jennifer Abadie, interrupted.

"Hey," she said. "We grow our own strawberries here."

Abadie, of Plant City, said she comes to the strawberry festival every year for the berries and the food.

Bundled up in a fleece jacket and a hat with a strawberry logo, Abadie said she loves the festival, but the low temperatures this year were ruining her fun.

"It stinks," she said. "If it was warmer, I'd enjoy it more."

Hilary Lehman can be reached at hlehman@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

Despite cold, first day of strawberry festival brings high hopes 03/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 5, 2010 12:10am]

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