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Sunshine and strawberries

Sunny skies, balmy temperatures and hungry appetites made the strawberries go fast this weekend.

Lines formed everywhere as people attending the seventh annual Floral City Strawberry Festival enjoyed the perfect weather the sponsoring Citrus County Chamber of Commerce volunteers wanted.

Many people also enjoyed the food samplings _ besides the strawberries _ offered at the festival's Floral Park home.

Getting to the festival involved a certain amount of patience as traffic backed up _ at times as far as Fort Cooper Road _ resulting in a bumper-to-bumper creep south on U.S. 41.

Lines also formed in front of the booths offering those diet-busting goodies for which the festival is famous: Italian sausage subs, home-made ice cream and all those plump strawberries in their various forms.

A wonderful rumor started among the people in the longest lines: You burn all the calories you are about to eat if you are patient enough to stand in a long line.

"I know it's jammed," said Doris Graska, a chamber volunteer. "But there's still plenty of parking."

For those who had to walk a little farther than planned she offered, "A little walk never hurt anyone." Walking also is great exercise to burn off some of the strawberry shortcake. Last year, almost 10,000 treats were consumed during the two-day event.

One man proudly admitted to eating 10 strawberry pies in two minutes. Each pie was 5 inches across. By accomplishing this feat, Sean MacDonald of Inverness, claimed the strawberry pie eating championship.

The festival also had a children's games area and hundreds of booths offering arts and crafts.

About 500 chamber volunteers make the festival possible, Graska said. They do everything from parking the cars, setting up the tents and selling tickets, to picking up all the trash after the festival.