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Essie Dixon Lewis 5 6

Shorty Cakes


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21 22, 37







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We want to hear from you. Let us know about your events, celebrations and achievements. To contact us, send your information via: Email: Sarah Holt, SHolt@PlantCityObserver. com. Mail: The Plant City Observer, 1507 S. Alexander St., Suite 103, Plant City, FL 33563

“Hi! I’m Shorty Cakes, and I want you folks to follow me on a journey through the ages of the legen-berry Florida Strawberry Festival.”


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is locally owned by Ed Verner, Karen Berry, Nate Kilton and Felix Haynes The Plant City Observer is published by Plant City Media LLC.

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Before 1973, no black contestant in the Florida Strawberry Festival Queen’s Pageant had ever placed. Essie Dixon Lewis became the first that year.



ho would have thought that in 1973 an outgoing young black girl would not only place in the Florida Strawberry Festival Queen’s Pageant, but earn the honor of First Maid? It certainly wasn’t Essie Dixon Lewis. Things like that just didn’t happen, she told herself and those who encouraged her to try. There was no way she even had a shot, she thought, no matter what her mother and fourth grade teacher and others who wanted her to run were then telling her. A girl who lived in the projects from a family with a well-known name, but not a lot of money, who had to borrow her mother’s dress shoes and snap the bows off of them to meet pageant rules, who didn’t own a one-piece bathing suit and other required items, running for that pageant? It takes a village to raise a child, and it also took a village to get Dixon Lewis everything she needed: the clothes, the hair, the makeup and the confidence to go out and actually do the thing. “It was amazing how the community came through,” Dixon Lewis said. “They wanted to do this and do that, and it was a blessing.” She was told to keep smiling, put Vaseline on her gums to prevent them from getting too dry and to power through any mistakes during the question portion. Dixon Lewis was still a little unsure, but she listened. The next thing she knew, her name was called and all eyes were on her as she received the title of First Maid. For once, the Plant City High School student known for her gift of gab was just about speechless. “Oh my God,” she remembered saying out loud on the stage. She wasn’t able to say much else, though she didn’t need to. Everyone understood. Dixon Lewis said she had no idea what she’d just done. Her friend Marian Richardson had gone out for the pageant before her — in fact, Richardson was the first black girl to ever even enter the competition, in 1968 — but no one that looked like her had ever placed. “That was something I never thought that a black would get on,” Dixon Lewis said. “Looking at the background of the Strawberry Festival, the farmers, you know — my thing was, ‘where does it fit in to the black community…’ it gave me a feeling that I can’t even describe, it really did.” Phyllis Head, a friend of Dixon Lewis’s from school, was crowned Strawberry Festival Queen shortly afterward and the court was completed. Dixon Lewis didn’t process what had happened until the next morning, when her mother told her she deserved to be driven to school that day, and then it all clicked. A dream was achieved. A door was opened. It’s no wonder Dixon Lewis didn’t think it would, though. That year, 1973, wasn’t the best of times for race relations in Plant City. The schools were already integrated by then and Plant City High School had moved into its current location at 1 Raider Place, but Dixon Lewis said there was still some “chaos”

in town. One example, from a June 1973 report by Martin E. Sloane, Ed., details an incident from that February in which 150 black students staged a walk-out after a picture was removed from the school’s “Black History Week” display, which led to police action resulting in 12 arrests and four alleged injuries to students, which led to 350 of the 395 black students boycotting the school by not attending for roughly one week. “That’s when all the fights broke out and I was one of those hiding under tables,” Dixon Lewis said. Dixon Lewis said her experience wasn’t quite as bad as others’. She already had friends of other races made by being a social butterfly in the cafeteria, but she also said she noticed she was respected by more people around town after becoming First Maid. Dixon Lewis very much enjoyed her time on the court. She loved traveling from city to city to appear in parades, performing civic duties around Plant City and, most of all, being able to say she could represent the black community on a stage it had never been able to get to before 1973. “Being the first black on the court, it was just awesome,” Dixon Lewis said. After her time on the court was up, Dixon Lewis wasn’t done with the pageant scene. She continued to compete in them through her entire time in college at Florida A&M University and, though at one point she had dreams of going out for Miss America, decided FAMU was the right place to retire from that scene. But like many who have worn the crowns or served on the courts, Dixon Lewis never got tired of serving the Plant City community and continues to be involved in area civic organizations to this day. Other black girls have managed to place and make it onto the court since Dixon Lewis’s time — Jada Brown being the latest to do so — but none have won First Maid. Dixon Lewis hopes to see more black girls go out for the pageant because the turnout these days isn’t what it used to be. Eight black girls competed in 1973 and only two, Brown and Jade’a Broome, did so in 2019. Only one, Zharia Griffin, gave it a shot in 2018. No matter what their reservations are, whether it has to do with their own self-confidence or preconceived notions about who’s supposed to succeed at the pageant, Dixon Lewis wants to help convince them otherwise. She believes they shouldn’t be hesitant or scared go out there and give it their best shot, even if they don’t think they have one. After all, if anyone would know it’s possible to beat the expectations, it’s the first black woman who did it. “I will not give up on trying to get the black girls to run,” Dixon Lewis said. “I can see the changes with the Strawberry Festival… I love the fact that Hispanic girls are running. Let’s mix this court up. It’s beautiful. (Samantha Sun) won and I thought that was awesome, That was great.”

Some Brands at RAOK: Alex + Ani Brighton Kendra Scott Joseph Ribkoff Erimish mo & much more!

RAOK boutique is located in The Village 2804 James L. Redman Parkway Suite 103 Plant City, FL 33566 Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday 10:00AM – 5:00PM




ShortyCakes H

ello my fellow Strawberry Festival fans. My name is Steven Ebenezer Shortcake and I am the new mascot for the Plant City Observer’s 2019 Florida Strawberry Festival Guide. But please, call me Shorty Cakes. Until four months ago, I was living in the Midwest as a plain little shortcake in a dessert case at Mary’s Shortcakes ‘R’ Us. Patrons came day after day but never wanted to purchase this plain shortcake. I once was told a story about a place where the streets are paved in strawberries and the clouds are whipped cream. I decided the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World is where I belong. It was here I discovered who I am, and it is here I began my ascent to greatness.

I first changed my style by adding the bling of strawberries and whipped cream to my already delicious self and then began my new identity as the freshest cakedude to ever lead you through the Plant City Observer’s Strawberry Festival guide. I am excited! I am thrilled! I am Shorty Cakes! Let’s do this.

Name: Shorty Cakes Parents: Mama Cakes and Papa Berry Education: Short Cake University ‘16 Favorite movie: “Berry Lyndon” Favorite musician: Strawberry Alarm Clock Favorite book: Berry Potter and the Chamber of Shortcakes by J.K. Rose-ling Favorite sports teams: Los Angeles Cakers and Montgomery Biscuits Favorite athlete: Cream Abdul-Jabbar Favorite thing to do in Plant City: Taking selfies near the strawberry water tower Favorite festival activity: Playing the ring toss game. It’s a cakewalk! Shorty Cakes blurbs and bio courtesy of James Jackson.




File photo

Rides on the Midway run from noon to 11 p.m.

THURSDAY, FEB. 28 10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway opens at 12 p.m. 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra at Wish Farms Soundstage 11:45 a.m. Senior Citizens Drawing at Wish Farms Soundstage 2:30 p.m. Fanta Strawberry Soda Throwdown at Kandu Magic Show Stage 3:30 p.m. The Oak Ridge Boys at Wish Farms Soundstage 6 p.m. Battle of the Bands Battle #1 at Publix Showcase Tent 7 p.m. Mosaic Youth Swine Show at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 7:30 p.m. ALABAMA at Wish Farms Soundstage

terson Co. Livestock Arena 1 p.m. Dairy Show at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 2 p.m. Youth Strawberry Stemming Contest at Stingray Chevrolet Entertainment Tent 2 to 4 p.m. Paul Jr. of American Chopeer at East. Indep. 2:30 p.m. Fanta Strawberry Soda Throwdown at Kandu Magic Show Stage 3:30 p.m. Home Free at Wish Farms Soundstage 6 p.m. The Danny Moody Band at Publix Showcase Tent 6 to 8 p.m Paul Jr. of American Chopper at East. Indep. 7:30 p.m. Kool & the Gang at Wish Farms Soundstage



10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway opens at 12 p.m. 1 p.m. Dairy Contestant Judging at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 2 p.m. Amish Doughnut Eating Contest at the Stingray Chevrolet Entertainment Tent 2:30 p.m. Fanta Strawberry Throwdown at Kandu Magic Show Stage 3:30 p.m. Willie Nelson & Family at Wish Farms Soundstage 5 to 7 p.m. Paul Jr. of American Chopper at East. Indep. 6 p.m. Pastor “Pee Wee” Callins at the Publix Showcase Tent 7 p.m. Mosaic Youth Swine Sale at the Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 7:30 p.m. Brothers Osborne at Wish Farms Soundstage

9 to 10 a.m. Registration for Baby Contest 10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway Open at 10 a.m. 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Baby Contest at Publix Showcase Tent 11 a.m. Dairy Showmanship (adults) at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 11:30 a.m. Dairy Pee Wee Showmanship at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 12:30 p.m. Dairy Costume Ball at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 2 p.m. Youth Plant Sale at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 2:30 p.m. Fanta Strawberry Soda Throwdown at Kandu Magic Show Stage 3:30 p.m. Chicks with Hits featuring Terri Clark, Pam Tillis and Suzy Bogguss at Wish Farms Soundstage 6 p.m. Little Mansion at Publix Showcase Tent 7:30 p.m. Pitbull Toddler at Wish Farms Soundstage

SATURDAY, MARCH 2 10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway opens at 10 a.m. 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Paul Jr. of American Chopper at East. Indep. 11 a.m. 46th annual Strawberry Youth Parade at State Farmer’s Market 11 a.m. Dairy Showmanship at Pat-

MONDAY, MARCH 4 10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway Open at 10 a.m.

10:30 a.m. Invitational Parade Luncheon at Trinkle Center 1 p.m. Grand Parade Begins in downtown Plant City 2 p.m. Grand Parade basses by the festival near Reynolds St. 2:30 p.m. Fanta Strawberry Soda Throwdown at Kandu Magic Show Stage 3 p.m. Lamb Jumping Contest at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 3:30 p.m. Pat Boone at Wish Farms Soundstage 5 p.m. Strawberry Spaghetti Eating Contest at Stingray Chevrolet Entertainment Tent 6 p.m. NRG at Publix Showcase Tent 7 p.m. Lamb Costume Contest at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 7:30 p.m. Martina McBride at Wish Farms Soundstage

TUESDAY, MARCH 5 10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway Open at 12 p.m. 2 p.m. Adult Strawberry Stemming Contest at Stingray Chevrolet Entertainment Tent 2:30 p.m. Fanta Strawberry Soda Throwdown at Kandu Magic Show Stage 3 p.m. Lamb Showmanship at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 3:30 p.m. Drifters, Platters & Cornell Gunter’s Coasters at Wish Farms Soundstage 5 p.m. Lamb Show at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 6 p.m. Battle of the Bands Battle #2 at Publix Showcase Tent 7:30 p.m. NEEDTOBREATHE at Wish Farms Soundstage

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6 10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway Open at 12 p.m. 1 p.m. Super Mega Corn Dog Eating Contest at Stingray Chevrolet Entertainment Tent

2:30 p.m. Fanta Strawberry Soda Throwdown at Kandu Magic Show Stage 3:30 p.m. Gene Watson at Wish Farms Soundstage 6 p.m. First Baptist Church of PC Modern Worship Team at Publix Showcase Tent 6 p.m. Mosaic Youth Steer Show at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 7:15 p.m. Honor American Heroes at Wish Farms Soundstage 7:30 p.m. STYX at Wish Farms Soundstage

THURSDAY, MARCH 7 10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway Open at 12 p.m. 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m .The Kingston Trio at Wish Farms Soundstage 11:45 a.m. Senior Citizens Drawing at Wish Farms Soundstage 2 p.m. Strawberry Shortcake Eating Contest at Stingray Chevrolet Entertainment Tent 3:30 p.m. The Lettermen at Wish Farms Soundstage 6 p.m. Battle of the Bands Battle #3 at Publix Showcase Tent 7 p.m. Mosaic Youth Steer Showmanship at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

FRIDAY, MARCH 8 10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway Open at 12 p.m. 2:30 p.m. Fanta Strawberry Soda Throwdown at Kandu Magic Show Stage 3 p.m. Strawberry Mashed Potato Pie Eating Contest at Stingray Chevrolet Entertainment Tent 3:30 p.m. Tanya Tucker at Wish Farms Soundstage 6 p.m. Beef Breed Showmanship at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 7:30 p.m. Chris Janson at Wish Farms Soundstage 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Moonlight Magic at the Midway

SATURDAY, MARCH 9 9 a.m. Registration for Livestock Judging Contest at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway Opens at 10 a.m. 10 a.m. Mosaic Youth Livestock Judging at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 10:15 a.m. Baby Parade at GT Grandstands 1 to 3 p.m. Meet Mike Alstott at Carolina Carports Display 2:30 p.m. Fanta Strawberry Soda Throwdown at Kandu Magic Show Stage 3:30 p.m. FSF Battle of the Bands Finale at Wish Farms Soundstage 6 p.m. Ladies of Lee at Publix Showcase Tent 7 p.m. Mosaic Youth Steer Sale at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 7:30 p.m. Keith Sweat at Wish Farms Soundstage

SUNDAY, MARCH 10 10 a.m. Gates Open, Midway Opens at 10 a.m. 11 a.m. Youth Beef Breed Show at Patterson Co. Livestock Arena 1 p.m. Kitchen Craft Cookware Drawing at Neighborhood Village 1 to 3 p.m. Meet Mike Alstott at Carolina Carports Display 2 p.m. Pulaski Vacation Giveaway at TECO Expo Hall 2:30 p.m. Fanta Strawberry Soda Throwdown at Kandu Magic Show Stage 3:30 p.m. Bill Anderson & Bobby Bare at Wish Farms Soundstage 4:30 p.m. Hola Plant City! at Publix Showcase Tent 5 p.m. Stingray Chevrolet Corvette Drawing at East Ind. 7:30 p.m. Old Dominion at Wish Farms Soundstage








Sponsored By: Husqvarna Everyday at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Additional 6 p.m. shows on Saturdays and Sundays

at the TruStep Gazebo Everyday from 11a.m. to 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.



Sponsored By: Vision Auto Glass Everyday at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Sponsored By: Softub Express Everyday at 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

RUNA PACHA “INDIAN WORLD” Sponsored By: Verizon Wireless Everyday at 11 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Courtesy photo

STYX perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 6.

POMPEYO DOG SHOW Sponsored By: Visions of Outdoor Living Everyday at 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

THURSDAY, FEB. 28 Oak Ridge Boys, 3:30 pm. ALABAMA, 7:30 p.m.

FRIDAY, MARCH 1 Willie Nelson and Family, 3:30 p.m. Brothers Osborne, 7:30 p.m.

MEET FORMER TAMPA BAY BUCCANEER MIKE ALSTOTT ROBINSON’S RACING PIGS Sponsored By: Netterfield’s Concessions Everyday at 11 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

DAKIN DAIRY FARMERS MILKING PARLOR Sponsored By: Southbay Sod Everyday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Gunter’s Coasters, 3:30 p.m. NEEDTOBREATHE, 7:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6 Gene Watson, 3:30 p.m. STYX, 7:30 p.m.



The Lettermen, 3:30 p.m. For King & Country, 7:30 p.m.

Home Free, 3:30 p.m. Kool & the Gang, 7:30 p.m.



Tanya Tucker, 3:30 p.m. Chris Janson, 7:30 p.m.

Sponsored By: Carolina Carports Saturday, March 9 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday, March 10 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m

Chicks with Hits featuring Terri Clark, Pam Tillis and Suzy Bogguss, 3:30 p.m. Pitbull Toddler, 7:30 p.m.



Sponsored By: Carolina Carports Friday, March 1 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, March 2 from 10 12 p.m., 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. an 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Pat Boone, 3:30 p.m. Martina McBride, 7:30 p.m.

TUESDAY, MARCH 5 Drifters, Platters & Cornell

SATURDAY, MARCH 9 FSF Battle of the Bands Finale, 3:30 p.m. Keith Sweat, 7:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, MARCH 10 Bill Anderson & Bobby Bare, 3:30 p.m. Old Dominion, 7:30 p.m.



Prepping for festival’s discount days Each year, the Florida Strawberry Festival hosts special deals on each day for attendees to get the most bang for their buck during their experience.


Pros have mastered the art of taking advantage of the special offers at the Florida Strawberry Festival to ensure they get the most out of their time while participating in the 11-day event. Each day, the festival offers a “special discount” revolving around a theme or a simple set of instructions. By taking the time to prepare for the days you wish to go you too can get away with a steal on everything from admission to Midway bands.


The kick-off day for this year’s festival is also Florida Blue Senior Citizens Day. Anyone 60 years old or older will get $2 off their $10 gate admission. This is one of two senior days and the first 250 Florida Blue Medicare Members to enter the Strawberry Festival on either today or on Thursday, March 7 will receive free entry compliments of Florida Blue. Show your Member ID card at the gate to receive free entry. Another thing to keep your eyes peeled for are the Senior Citizens Day giveaways at the Wish Farms Soundstage at 11:45 a.m. on the mornings of the Senior Days. The drawing will immediately follow the 10:30 a.m. show at the stage and the seniors in attendance will have tickets placed in a barrel. One lucky winner will walk away with a prize. The first day of the festival is also the AT&T Ride-A-Thon Day. Wrist bands purchased at the Midway today are $20 and will allow the wearer to ride almost all the rides. However, on this day from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. those with a voucher from participating AT&T stores will receive $3 off $20 wristband at any Midway booth and ride all day for only

$17. Check out for a list of participating stores. Vouchers will be available at the locations from Feb.1 to March 7. You can also enjoy one free Polar Pop from Circle K with any Midway wristband purchase during any day of the festival. The vouchers can be picked up at the Midway booths.


March 1 is the Publix Food and Fun Friday. If you show up to the entry gate with three Publix or Publix GreenWise brand nonperishable items you will receive a Florida Strawberry Festival Commemorative “The Best Fest Reuseable Bag” or a voucher for $5 off the $30 wristband and ride most mechanical rides for only $25. Check out for a list of participating stores.


March 2 will be one of the most chaotic days of the festival as it is Free Kids Day. Any child through high school age is admitted to the festival for free. They simply have to stop by a ticket booth and receive a complimentary voucher. Part of the youth centered festivities is the beloved Youth Parade, which begins at 11 a.m. and runs from the State Farmers Market down Reynolds Street to the South end of the festival. Circle K is also sponsoring a Super Saturday Wristband Day from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. A wrist band purchased at the Midway for $30 will entitle the wearer to ride most mechanical rides for this one low price.


Sunday is Coca-Cola Family Day, which means if you bring an

empty Coca-Cola brand can or plastic bottle to the entry gate you will receive a voucher for $5 off the $25 wristband and thus can ride all day for only $20. The can or bottle is not valid for gate admission and you can only bring one can per person.


Monday is always a strange day at the festival. Much of the town is out on the streets of Plant City awaiting the Grand Parade, which begins at 1 p.m. and will pass by the Festival at approximately 2 p.m. The parade starts downtown at Evers and Renfro street and heads North through downtown Plant City and then West towards the Festival grounds on Reynolds Street. If you’ve never been bring a folding chair and enjoy the marching bands, local politicians, FFA chapters, churches, businesses, dance groups and more. Though most festival-goers focus on the grand parade today there is also another Ride-A-Thon Day, which means Midway wristbands will be $20.


March 5 is the Breyers Home School TWOSDAY from 12 p.m until 11 p.m. at the festival. All children up to age 17 are admitted to the festival free with a paid adult ticket. Any single ride tickets are on sale for $2. Those who wish for more than just one or two rides can participate in another Ride-A-Thon Day, where Midway wristbands will be $20.


The Festival always has a day to support the troops. This year that honor falls on March 6 and any active, reserve and retired mili-

tary and military veterans along with Law Enforcement and First Responders (EMS & Fire Fighters) will be admitted free all day with a valid ID. Wednesday will also feature a Ride-A-Thon Day, which means Midway wristbands will be $20.


Seniors have their last chance at the Florida Blue Senior Citizens Day. Once again any attendee 60 years old or older will get $2 off the $10 gate admission and the first 250 Florida Blue Medicare Members to enter the Strawberry Festival will receive free entry compliments of Florida Blue. Show your Member ID card at the gate to receive free entry. The Senior Citizens Day Prize will also be once again at 11:45 at the Wish Farms Soundstage. The same day will also feature an AT&T Parts Ride-A-Thon Day from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. where Midway wristbands will be $3 off the $20 tickets with a voucher from participating AT&T stores. Present the voucher to the Midway ticket booth to get a $17 wristband. AT&T stores will receive $3 off $20 wristband at any Midway booth and ride all day for only $17. Check out for a list of participating stores.


March 8 is the Tampa Bay Times Day on the Midway. From 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. present a coupon from the Tampa Bay Times and get $5 off the $20 Fun Pack Ride Coupon Book. The coupon will be available in The Tampa Bay Times and on on Sunday, March 3 and Friday, March 8. Coupon must be printed in hardcopy. Electronic version of

coupons will not be accepted. Friday will be filled with excited patrons all night as the festival hosts its annual Moonlight Magic Night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. For $25 a person you can ride most of the rides on the Midway all night long.


Since the festival is all about supporting local agriculture Saturday is Farm Worker Appreciation Day. Farmworkers will receive free admission with a voucher from Astin Farms. Circle K is hosting another Super Saturday Wristband Day from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wristbands can be purchased at the Midway for $30.


The Festival will wrap up with a Coca-Cola Family Day where you can once again bring an empty Coke can or plastic bottle to the entry gate to receive a voucher for $5 off the $25 wristband and ride all day for only $20. The can or bottle is not valid for gate admission. Only one can per person. Check your calendar and make sure you have the necessary items to take advantage of the berry sweet deals provided by the Florida Strawberry Festival. With a little planning you can stretch your dollar and use the extra cash to buy that giant shortcake you’ve had your eye on all day.



AG SHOW SCHEDULE DAILY EXHIBITS ON GROUNDS CHARLIE GRIMES FAMILY AGRICULTURAL CENTER Livestock shows, sales and contests ASTIN FARMS PAVILION Swine Exhibit: Feb. 28-March 2 Dairy Exhibit: Feb. 28-March 3 Steer Exhibit: March 6-9 SWINDLE FAMILY PAVILION Mosaic Poultry and Rabbit Shows: Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Beef Breed Exhibit: March 8-10 Youth Plant Show Exhibit: Feb. 28-March 3 Breanne Williams

Lamb Show Exhibit: March 4-6

The livestock costume contests are always must-see events.

THURSDAY, FEB. 28 MOSAIC YOUTH SWINE SHOW Begins at 7 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

DAIRY PEE WEE SHOWMANSHIP Begins at 11:30 a.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena


DAIRY COSTUME BALL Begins at 12:30 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

DAIRY CONTESTANT JUDGING Begins at 1 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

YOUTH PLANT SALE Begins at 2 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

MOSAIC YOUTH SWINE SALE Begins at 7 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena



LAMB JUMPING CONTEST Begins at 3 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

DAIRY SHOW SHOWMANSHIP Begins at 11 a.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

LAMB COSTUME CONTEST Begins at 7 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

DAIRY SHOW Begins at 1 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena



LAMB SHOWMANSHIP Begins at 3 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

DAIRY SHOWMANSHIP (ADULTS) Begins at 11 a.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

LAMB SHOW Begins at 5 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6 MOSAIC YOUTH STEER SHOW Begins at 6 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

THURSDAY, MARCH 7 MOSAIC YOUTH STEER SHOWMANSHIP Begins at 7 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena



BEEF BREED SHOWMANSHIP Begins at 6 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sponsored by Kitchen Craft

SATURDAY, MARCH 9 MOSAIC YOUTH LIVESTOCK JUDGING Begins at 10 a.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena MOSAIC YOUTH STEER SALE Begins at 7 p.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

Neighborhood Village Youth: Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Garden Club Horticulture Show: Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Strawberry Queen Exhibit: Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.



YOUTH BEEF BREED SHOW Begins at 11 a.m. Patterson Co. Livestock Arena

Shoebox Float Display: Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sponsored by HiDow MILTON E. HULL ARMORY BUILDING East Hillsborough Art Guild Show: Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sponsored by Good Health Saunas Photography Contest: Daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sponsored by Spivey Concessions STRAWBERRY PRODUCTION EXHIBIT Demonstration of Strawberry Production: West of the Publix Showcase Tent. Sponsored by Florida Strawberry Growers Association PIONEER VILLAGE

File photo

The 2019 Youth Plant Sale will kick off at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 2 at the Patterson Co. Livestock Arena.

Demonstration of Pioneer Skills Daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sponsored by Florida’s Best








Courtesy photo

Terri Clark, Pam Tillis and Suzy Bogguss will hit the stage March 3.

The Chicks with Hits Tour featuring Terri Clark and Pam Tillis and Suzy Bogguss will hit the festival stage on March 3. BREANNE WILLIAMS STAFF WRITER


hree of country music’s greatest artists are coming together for one elaborate show at the Florida Strawberry Festival. The Chicks with Hits tour features Terri Clark, Pam Tillis, and Suzy Bogguss and will be performed at the festival on March 3 at 3:30 p.m. on the Wish Farms Soundstage. The three women have vastly different styles, but their music all shares one common thread: it comes from the heart. “We have a blast together,” Clark said. “We really like each other as human beings, we have true and genuine chemistry on stage. Our sense of humor is all very different, but it all gels so well. We sing and play each other’s songs, there’s no band up there, just the three of us… It’s just a lot of banter and the tour is full of songs the audience will now and love.” All three women were a part of the movement that revolutionized country music in the 80s and 90s. Women were flooding through the charts, cranking out hit after hit as they proved country music was only stronger with their influence. It’s something that now is seldom seen and sitting through the Chicks with Hits show is a bittersweet nod at the days gone by. The entire show is filled with familiar melodies, songs entire generations fell in love with years ago. People are always on their feet, singing and laughing along with the witty and spontaneous dialogue. Clark describes the show as a casual experience. She compares it to sitting in a giant living room. They’ll discuss everything from what their day was like to where they went on an adventure to lunch. It draws the audience in and makes them a part of the conversation. All three of the artists stayed true to their roots. As they continue to release music the albums evolve, but the style never strays from the original country inspiration that brought their songs to life. The songs drift to include some rock and blues influences, but continue to pay homage to classic country. “It’s a reminder every time we’re

up there, a reminder of a great time in country music,” Clark said. “The 90s was very female friendly… there were women all over the chart and now it’s become very scant. In a way, I think people may need to reach back and see shows like what we are doing, to remember what country music was and what it can be.” Each of the three artists will have several of their top hits featured. The other two will help play the melody and sing along with the catchy tunes. Some will be upbeat party songs while others will be more folksy. At the end of the show there will be montage of a lot of their other hits that didn’t fit into the show. As much fun as bringing their own songs to the stage are, Clark said it has been a blast getting to sing harmony with Tillis and Bogguss. It’s something they haven’t spent decades doing and through it they’ve found a new love for their co-star’s music as well as a deeper appreciation of their own songs as they watch them reimagined through the unique setup of their tour. “Come on out to the show, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Clark said. “I guarantee a fun time and a lot of strawberry themed food.”

STYX and stones may break my bones but a set of teeth will always hurt me.

Rick Diamond (Courtesy photo)

STYX continues to bring energetic, anthemic rock and roll to the stage.

The band last played a concert in Plant City back in 2014. JUSTIN KLINE SPORTS/ASSOCIATE EDITOR


he last time STYX took to the Wish Farms Soundstage, the legendary classic rock band helped start the Florida Strawberry Festival on a high note with its opening night concert. They played many of their greatest hits and even brought up 2014 Strawberry Queen Jessi Rae Varnum for guest vocals. Needless to say, the band is excited to get back in front of a familiar audience. “I just remember that one in particular for whatever reason, I can’t cite why, but the crowd was so into it and the festival itself seemed to be conducive to a great rock show,” bassist Ricky Phillips said. “They came to party, they came with a lot of energy and that’s what I remember.” STYX fans can once again expect to hear some of the band’s most iconic songs, from the sweeping chorus of “Come Sail Away” to the hard rocker-turned-Pittsburgh Steelers anthem “Renegade.” Phillips said the band will also include some “deep cuts” for the hardcore fans and songs from its newest album, 2017’s “The Mission.” A new wrinkle, at least for this show, is that fans will get to hear “Mr. Roboto.” After many years of not playing the song live, STYX added it into the rotation in 2017 and Phillips said playing the song has been “a lot of fun.” “Every once in a while we hit on something that’s working well and if it’s the same kind of audience, we stick with it,” Phillips said. “You want to rock a little

harder in outdoor festival settings like this.” As usual, STYX is going to stay busy on the road this year. They’re booked for a run of shows with comedian Larry the Cable Guy in March, going abroad to the United Kingdom and Norway in the summer and will begin planning their next move after the current tour run ends in March. “There’s always something looming or trying to be put together,” Phillips said. “In 15 years, if we ever got more than 10 days off in row it was a miracle.” “The Mission” is STYX’s latest foray into storytelling. The 2017 album is the tale of a manned flight from Earth to Mars that launches in the year 2033. Phillips said the band worked on the story with help from NASA. STYX is hoping to do a run of shows for the album later this year, but plans are not yet set in stone. If everything goes well, the band members might be able to get to the festival early and enjoy everything it has to offer before going on stage. And when they do get ready to rock and roll that night, they’ll make sure to put on another show Plant City won’t soon forget. “We’re rocking full force from beginning to end,” Phillips said.





FACTS FROM THE FARM The Florida Strawberry Growers Association’s booth at the Florida Strawberry Festival is a great place to learn about Florida strawberries. “My Granddaddy LongCakes always taught me that a berry raised was a berry earned.”



veryone loves biting into a fresh, juicy Florida strawberry. The Florida Strawberry Growers Association hopes everyone will also love learning about each berry’s journey from the farm to your hands. The FSGA’s booth, a Florida Strawberry Festival staple of more than 30 years, is more than just one of the coolest displays you can see at the festival. It’s a hub of learning, a place where all of your questions about Plant City’s greatest export can be answered. “We educate consumers and fair-goers from all over the world on how berries are grown commercially in the state of Florida, and how important the ag industry is to this community,” FSGA marketing director Sue Harrell said.

The experience offered by the FSGA booth is about as close as one can get to being on a strawberry farm without trespassing or waiting for a u-pick event. The John Deere tractors next to the rows of berries are real and functional, and fair-goers can also learn about them as well as antique tractors. The strawberry plants that line the ground in front of the informational booth and porch areas are 100 percent real, too. Volunteers, such as Berry Bay Farms’ Todd Jameson and Mike Lott of Mike Lott Farms, work the area in the same way as anyone in town with a 90-acre farm. The berries begin growing in October, concurrent with the start of strawberry season, and are later hand-planted into the ground at the festival. “We put in a real, working strawberry field here for two weeks so they can experience going and looking at a real field with all the different stages of the strawberries

growing,” Harrell said. “You’ve got things from the flower to the green berry, you can see the runners on the plants, see how we actually plant the plants and put the plastic down. Learn why we use the plastic, why we use the drip irrigation. We answer all these questions with signage going around it and we also have an ‘Ask a Farmer’ area.” That area, styled to look like the front porch of a farmers’ home, is sometimes occupied for several hours a day by retired growers Buddy and Melba Sewell. The Sewells will be happy to answer any questions you have while sitting in their rocking chairs. Like the famous strawberry throne at Parkesdale’s booth, the porch is a popular photo spot among festival-goers for its uniqueness, sunflowers in bloom and, in some cases, the Sewells themselves. Harrell said many families, often local, stop by the porch every year decked out in strawberry-themed clothes to pose for photos.

One thing you can’t do, however, is pick the berries. The fields are roped off anyone caught sneaking in for a snack will be removed from the area, no matter how young or old they are. “A lot of people will sneak their little kids in, but the whistle will blow,” Harrell said. With more than 500,000 people from around the United States and the rest of the world coming to the festival annually, the booth is also one of the FSGA’s best resources for getting consumers’ attention. Harrell said the impact the booth has over 11 days is massive. “We can do stuff all year round but this is really important,” she said. “We see more people here than we could anywhere else.” The booth is located just west of the Publix Entertainment Tent, backing up to Reynolds Street.




The Florida Strawberry Festival is beloved by nearly all who call Plant City home. The approximately 2,500 volunteers that make the festival possible help show visitors the easygoing and welcoming nature all of the locals try to offer. You can find so much more of it, though, when you finish your day of excitement at the festival grounds and drive into town. Split your festival days up and make sure you leave some time to explore some of the local hidden gems. Plant City is a haven for unique shopping experiences. Whether you want to spend the afternoon popping in and out of antique shops in historic downtown — some of which are said to be haunted — or taking a girls’ trip to local boutiques, you can find it all within a 10-minute drive of the festival grounds. If you want a classy souvenir to commemorate your stay in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, head to RAOK and Fringe boutiques. Both stores are run by some of the nicest residents in Plant City and both have classy and unique strawberry-themed merchandise you literally won’t be able to find anywhere else. People often drive from across several nearby counties to enjoy the offerings of Southern Hospitality, which is one of a handful of companies in Florida to carry Joanna Gaines’, of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” line. Spend an afternoon in historic downtown. Pop in to Mr. Sebas Ice Cream Shop and get a cone of your favorite flavor. Then start the leisurely hunt for the J. Seward Johnson sculptures, which are on display throughout downtown until March. While you hop around looking for the next unique sculpture to take a selfie with you

will stumble upon shops your Instagram is dying to get a photo of. Mere feet away is the train viewing platform where people come from all over the country to watch trains pass by. You can swing in the train depot’s museum while you’re there to learn more about Plant City’s rich locomotive history. The Plant City Photo Archives & History center is also available for those who enjoy delving into the past and learning more about the roots of the town. If you use Facebook, head to the events tab and search for the Plant City area. Whether it’s at Krazy Kup Coffee House or Keel & Curley Winery, there’s bound to be a plethora of open mics, movie nights or game nights throughout town. If strawberries are on your mind you should head to Parkesdale to sit on the beloved strawberry throne. It doesn’t hurt that you can pick up strawberry hot sauce and a fresh shortcake while you’re there. The Holiday Inn Express also has a giant outdoor strawberry chair that frequently makes an appearance on social media as guests climb up and pose in its elaborate seat. A quick drive away is the iconic Plant City water tower, which of course is designed to look like a strawberry. If you’re up for a short drive, hop in the car and head to Metals and Nature on State Road 60. The business has a garden full of animals like peacocks, cats and even a pig. It’s reminiscent of walking through a gothic fairy garden as you never know what you’ll find when you turn the corner. If you enjoy unique decorative pieces this is the place for you. Dinosaur World is also a once-in-a-lifetime type venue. Just a few exits down from the festival the park has everything from

150 life-size dinosaur sculptures created by Christer Svensson to hands-on exhibits and fun for children. Just south of Plant City is Edward Medard Park, which is a perfect getaway for nature lovers. There is a 700-acre reservoir used for canoeing, boating and fishing and a three-mile trail. A local Viking reenactment group frequently practices at the park so a walk in the woods could feel like a step back through time. JUSTIN KLINE

As good as the food at the Florida Strawberry Festival is, I’m sure those of you visiting town and staying in our hotels aren’t going to want to eat fair food for every meal of the day. If you’re looking for something to eat while you’re here and want to get away from the big chain restaurants, I’m your man. Brick House Cafe is a safe bet with all the essentials for a classic diner-style breakfast. If I’m downtown, I like going to Krazy Kup for coffee and either a croissant or a strata. Don’t sleep on their baked goods, either. Who doesn’t love a good burger and fries? If you’re looking for a big, juicy burger and the best tater tots in a 20-mile radius, you’ll like the Strawberry Tap. If you’re looking for a burger that will really knock your socks off and are cool with goat cheese, 1916 Irish Pub has my favorite in town. I prefer it without the Thousand Island sauce, but your mileage may vary. In the mood for tacos? One of the best spots in town, Taco Loco, is within easy walking distance of the festival grounds. Get you some barbacoa and thank me later. There’s a pretty good chance you’re going to visit or consider visiting Parkes-

dale Farm Market at some point — and you need to, as those milkshakes really are world-class — and you won’t regret getting some tacos from Plaza Mexico across the street, either. El Mirasol also has great tacos, a well-stocked salsa bar and tasty ice cream on deck. Duke’s Brewhouse may not be a Mexican restaurant in any way, shape or form, but its chicken tacos are comfort food for me. I can’t explain it. There are many places to get a Cuban sandwich out here and I’ve tried them all, but the best experience I’ve had was with a traditional El Cubano from Ole’ Tampa Cubans. If you’ve got a hankering for seafood, particularly devil crab, Linda’s Crab Shack does it consistently well. If you’re looking for a steak or some barbecue, here’s a two-for-one deal. Smokin’ Aces Steakhouse does both and does them well. As a Buffalo, NY native, I believe all chicken wing lovers should make a stop there. Sometimes you just can’t pass up on pizza. We’ve got two pizzerias — Esposito’s and Nick’s — that do it better than anyone around. As a bonus, Esposito’s has the best Italian food you can get in Plant City and Nick’s house sauce for chicken wings is excellent if you like flavor more than heat. Finally, if you’re big into meal prep, Norma’s Cuban Sandwich Shop recently started selling freshly made meal prep packs that can be picked up on Mondays. The menu changes from time to time, but every option I’ve tried thus far has been delicious. Call (813) 704-6015 or email to order ahead for pickup next Monday.



Meet Kenny Peace Georgia, but we moved here when I was a kid. What’s your role with the festival these days? I’m in charge of the stadium. I make sure when you come in you have a seat out there. My wife (Carolyn) and I are in charge of the upstairs lounge where we feed the directors and the associate directors. What’s your favorite memory from the festival?

If you’ve been to a concert at the Florida Strawberry Festival’s Wish Farms Soundstage, you’ve probably seen or even met Kenny Peace. The man in charge of making sure everyone has a good concert experience has been a fixture at the festival for nearly five decades.

When my niece became Strawberry Queen. Stephanie St. Martin. We were very proud of her That was back in 1997. Time flies by. She went out one year and didn’t make it that year, so she was kind of depressed. She said ‘You know what I’m going out and I’m gonna win it next year.’ Then she did. That’s one of my real fond memories.

ing new people. I can talk to a stranger better than I can talk to people I know. What do people from out of town ask you most often? When they come out to the stadium they want to know how many seats are there and how many acts we have. Places to come visit in Plant City. What’s your favorite thing to do at the festival? Spending time with my family and kids. Like I say, it’s a family event. We spend time with all the directors, associate directors and their families. It’s a get-together and it’s all family. That’s what we try to make the festival — a big family event. Which concert are you most looking forward to this year? Willie (Nelson)... I think this might be his last hurrah.

Which eating contest would you try? Strawberry shortcake. I love strawberries and I love shortcake. My first job volunteering was at St. Clement’s making all the shortcake. I helped build it. My job was the whipped cream. Man, I’d get whipped cream from one end to the other… sometimes John Switch and I would just get the big bowl and put our whole faces in it. If you had to convince a total stranger to go to the festival, what would you tell them? It’s fun for everyone of all ages. There’s something for everyone to see. We’ve got free entertainment which is real good. We’ve got agriculture. You go to the FSGA and they’ve got plants out there. We’ve got arts and crafts. We’ve got the Senior Citizens Day where you can do the polka with the Queen and Court.

How long have you been involved with the festival?

Who do you like to bring to the festival?

What’s your favorite thing to eat at the festival?

Which free acts are you most looking forward to seeing?

I’ve been volunteering for 46 years, but I’ve been a director for 26 years.

I’ve got two grandkids that have got to come all the time. My son, he was raised at the festival and now my two grandkids are being raised there.

I like Benny’s Corn Dogs. I love corn dogs. I go to Ronnie’s and Netherfield’s to get some pizza. Amish doughnuts are good, too, but I’ve got to stay away from them. Mavric’s Chocolates, I go every morning to check his bacon. I’m not too much for the chocolate, but I love the bacon, so I’ve got to test the bacon.

I like Dennis Lee. Dennis grew up at the festival and we grew up with him. Kazual, they’re a good act. They put on a good show. The RedHead Express, they’re like family now. We bring them in so much, you get to know them. They’re just family.

What’s your earliest memory of the festival? Coming when we were kids. We had fun, grew up around the festival. Showing animals and having a good time. I was born in McRae,

What do you enjoy most about the festival? The fellowship, seeing people I haven’t seen in a while and meet-

What new thing would you like to add to the festival if you could? I just wish we had room for a rodeo. I’d love to watch a rodeo. We’ve just run out of room, but I think it would draw a lot of people. We had one years ago. Wrestling would be good to have again too, but the guys like Dusty Rhodes, they’re all gone now. Dusty Rhodes and somebody were wrestling and there was an old man out there, probably in his 60s or 70s, and two younger guys jumped on him. The old man was holding his own. The deputies came and said ‘We’re not gonna pull them off, he’s doing a good job.’ Which artist would you book for a concert if you could? Dolly (Parton)… I don’t go backstage to see any of the artists but if Dolly comes, I’d fight to be the first one to get backstage to see her. I guarantee you it would sell out in three days.


Queen’s Exhibit is



Nana Hotcakes used to tell me stories about Marsha and Dodie. She said they used to hang out together at the festival and heckle the profiteroles.

The 2019 Strawberry Festival Queen’s Pageant Exhibit is decked to the nines to match the “It’s a Hit” theme and has a special display for Queen Kendall Guadens and former queen Silvia Azorin, now Silvia Dodson.



or Dodie White and Marsha Passmore, the Strawberry Festival is much more than just an 11-day carnival in the spring. Since the sisters were children in Plant City, the Strawberry Festival – specifically the Strawberry Festival’s Queen’s Pageant – has been a special part of their year, and over the past six years that passion has culminated in their unique queen’s exhibit that highlights the current and past Strawberry Queens. “I think we were always a queen wannabe,” Passmore said about what drew them to the pageant as kids. “But the fun part was, we always thought the queens were so royal and they represented the city. We always thought that was the neatest part of the whole thing because that’s who we looked up to as children.” The sisters began as tram captains with the festival, where they volunteered at the position for around 15 years, which they said may have been longer than anyone else at the time. In fact, they volunteered as tram captains for such an extended period that a luncheon was thrown in their honor when they retired. They then worked for the festival’s ambassador program, ran a fundraising booth for the Business and Professional Women’s Club and had, “done a little bit of everything,” before being asked to co-chair a committee for the Festival’s Neighborhood Village. “I can’t remember not volunteering, but I was probably 18 when we started. We were young,” Passmore added. But starting a new chapter for the Queen’s exhibit came with its own set of challenges. The Festival had special displays built in Neighborhood Village and the decades worth of former Queen and Court photos were in desperate need of some care if they were going to be ready for their glamorous new homes. At first Passmore and White were afraid that they wouldn’t be able to do the exhibit justice as the photos laid dusty on the floor, but three months of cleaning, reframing and fitting the display with satin got them through their first year. The following year the entire exhibit had to be taken apart in order for the satin in the displays to be hemmed and laundered before being put back together. “The first two years, we probably spent no less than 100 hours out here working on them,” White said. Now in their sixth year things are easier with the groundwork laid, but the work never stops as

the display is altered each year to highlight a different queen and fit the theme of the festival. This year’s theme is “It’s A Hit,” and that theme is carried on in the royal exhibit. Bats, balls and gloves loaned from the local Little League and softball associations adorn the displays. When you walk in the doors you are immediately presented with 2019 Queen Kendall Gaudens’ iconic red dress and photos of the big night in January when the new Queen and Court were crowned. Taking a stroll along the photos of years past you turn the corner to find the highlighted queen’s display for 2019, who just so happens to be one of Plant City’s “greatest hits” Silvia Azorin – now Silvia Dodson – the 1968 Strawberry Festival Queen. Dodson is still heavily involved in the city, serving as chairperson for the city’s Empty Bowls Project, an annual event hosted by the United Food Bank of Plant City to raise money for the organization. “It does seem to fit, though, doesn’t it?” Passmore said. “Every year it seems like there’s a queen that needs to jump out of there and be focused on.” When glancing back down the now double sided rows of smiling young women White took a moment to point out which queens had been highlighted for each year and how they tended to fit the theme perfectly. When the festival released its theme for 2019 they knew almost immediately who they wanted to display as their featured royal. “Sylvia’s a hit,” White said. “She’s a hit, there’s just no doubt about it. You don’t know Sylvia without loving her.” From there the exhibit continues down memory lane and includes a side display of pictures of the current Queen as well as First Maid Madilyn Conrad and Court Members Olivia Frazier, Jada Brown and Kennedy Cullins. Since taking over the exhibit it’s grown from merely pictures hanging on the wall in the main exhibit hall, to a home in separate building on the grounds, to two full glass case displays in the festival’s Neighborhood Village that represents each year’s queen and her court. “We’ve known so many of the people that were queens or at least in the court,” Passmore said. “And sometimes the court members don’t get highlighted as much as they should because there’s so many court members that, over the years, are still so much a part of Plant City.” Pointing at a Queen the duo used to babysit and another that they went to high school with,

they then began to share stories of the contributions so many of the royals have gone on to make in Plant City. The festival would be hard-pressed to find a pair that know the immense history and have such a genuine adoration for the pageant as White and Passmore. “All five girls represent Plant City and the Strawberry Festival so well,” White said. “It’s so cool to see how they actually portray what children should grow up to be like, girls and boys.” You can see the Queen’s Exhibit in Neighborhood Village throughout the festival. Breanne Williams

Marsha Passmore and her sister Dodie White with the 2019 exhibit.

Breanne Williams

The entrance to the exhibit features the iconic red gown worn by 2019 Queen Kendall Gaudens.




Courtesy photo

The “Sweetheart” is a dessert delight for the daring. JUSTIN KLINE SPORTS/ASSOCIATE EDITOR

I don’t know how much I have in common with First Maid Madilyn Conrad, but I do know we share one obsession: Pickle Barrel’s sirloin tips. There’s no gaudy presentation for any foodie with an active Instagram account to geek out over. They’ll make you a little vessel out of aluminum foil and scoop some mashed potatoes, sauteed onions and green peppers, mushrooms and those delicious little steak tips into it. It’ll be hot to the touch and you’ll need to go grab a fistful of napkins right away, unless your plan was to wear some more of the steak and mushroom juice that’s going to squirt onto your shirt and pants whether you like it or not. You’ll give them some money from your wallet and hopefully you’ll find a good spot to sit. The benches and tables usually fill up quickly and you’ll want to be sitting for this. Once you’re seated, you dig in. Reader, eating that first glob of steak and potato and whatever else didn’t fall off your fork on the way to your mouth is just the best. It’s a perfect harmony of flavor and texture and heartiness, of protein and carbs and calories. If you’re supposed to be dieting, that first bite is when you stop hating yourself for taking this sportswriter’s advice and buying it against the pleas of your conscience. If you’re not dieting,

even better — you’ve got clear eyes and a full heart, and you can’t lose. Because you’ve already murdered any chance you had at eating healthy that day, let those sirloin tips digest a while and hang out on the grounds. There’s plenty of axe throwing and livestock costume contests and musical performances to keep you busy while you wait to make room for dessert. Once you’re ready for that, you have to go get the Amish doughnut. Look, it goes without saying that you have to eat at least one strawberry shortcake while you’re at the festival. I like all of the different varieties you can get, so this isn’t about to be an endorsement of one shortcake vendor over another. But those original Amish doughnuts, especially when they’re hot and fresh, are so much lighter than they look and pretty much melt in your mouth without feeling like it’s all just sugary glaze welding itself to your teeth. It’s going to be a top-five doughnut experience of your life. Maybe in the top three if you’re not a total doughnut snob. It’s my number one. If you woke up feeling extra dangerous that day, try the Sweetheart variety.

File photo

No matter which strawberry shortcake booth you visit, you are in for a treat.



File photo

Fiske Fries are a staple at the Florida Strawberry Festival.


It’s hard to spend 11 days at the Florida Strawberry Festival and not delve into some creative culinary creations inbetween watching shows and riding rides. If grazing is your forte, stop at Fiske Fries or the Peachey’s — former known as The Amish Baking Company — stand. A cup full of salty fries is easy to inhale while you take in the sights. If you want something truly unique order “The Sweetheart,” a giant Amish donut, covered in hot fudge and topped with whipped cream and local Plant City strawberries. It’s messy, but can be managed with both hands while you head to a nearby show. If you’re ready to dive in deep head straight to the Mama Jane Harris booth to sink your teeth into a funnel cake full of flavors one would not normally associate with the “dessert.” Last year one of her highlighted creations was a loaded fried potato funnel cake. Topped with cheese, bacon, chives and everything a loaded potato should consist of the massive order easily fed three of our team and had us still regretting trying to tackle the beast after just eating lunch. Yes, there’s loads of traditional fair food like turkey legs and hot dogs, nachos and cotton candy. But what’s unique about the Plant City’s massive festival is the vendors step up to the plate with unique twists to their already delicious grub. We are here to celebrate a strawberry and nearly every booth will have something that is smoth-

ered with or filled to capacity with the sweet fruit. Strawberry crepes are at Sunshine Concessions and massive, fresh strawberry milkshakes can be found all over the festival. But some of the greatest festival foods are the most simple. Plant City organizations, whether they be civic clubs, churches or schools, set up booths to dish out their version of a fresh strawberry dessert. Shortcakes, jams, pies and cheesecakes, entire bowls of berries, cobblers and strawberry fritters all topped with or made with locally picked berries are all provided by Plant City volunteers at the variety of booths around the festival. It’s hard to beat a strawberry dessert made by a Plant City resident. Strawberries are their life, their passion, and that’s evident in the careful way they construct each dish. If you’re headed to grab a shortcake adopt a vacation mindset. Eat that dessert for breakfast. The closer to opening you get in line the less you’ll have to wait. As the day drags on and more and more guests flood in you will find yourself in a queue similar to those found at Disney World on the Fourth of July. So when the gates open grab a coffee and a shortcake and let the good times roll.




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When you enter the grounds of the Florida Strawberry Festival it doesn’t take long to realize there is a big difference between those who come every year and those who are taking it in for the very first time. If you want to enjoy the festival like a pro there are a few simple tricks to blending in and becoming one of the locals. The easiest and most crucial step happens before you ever even enter town. As wonderful as living in the realm of technology is, Siri often struggles to find the best route to the festival. Regardless of where you’re coming from your GPS will probably direct you from I-4 and have you exit at Thonotosassa. That is a major mistake. Depending on how early you’re willing to hit the road I-4 will more than likely be a crawling disaster for the majority of the 11-days. Everyone who is coming in comes off the same exit and has to funnel into a tiny sliver of parking. You’ll spend more time stopped waiting for lights to change as you inch toward parking than you probably expected to spend total on your commute. Highway 60, Fl-39 and US-92 will soon become your best friends if you want to beat traffic. If I-4 is your only option, consider getting off on Alexander Street and swinging around the festival that way. Backroads are all a local will dare trek on for the entire 11-days and in the end it will save loads of time, allowing you to spend the morning enjoying breakfast inside the grounds rather that chugging Starbucks from inside your car. Once inside take a moment to pause before you rush to the closest donut stand. Take a photo of your gate and where you parked. The festival is deceptively large and it’s easy

to get turned around. When you have solid bearings, navigating is a breeze. Whatever you want to do, do it first. Pretend you’re at a theme park on a holiday weekend. If you want to ride a ride, knock it out immediately. If you’re there to get some shortcake or strawberry lemonade grab them as soon as you get through. The festival draws more and more attendees every year so the crowd favorites will come with winding lines as the day progresses. Have designated meeting locations and times for your group. Odds are you will end up separating and one thing first timers won’t realize is cell reception becomes nonexistent for most busy days at the festival. Take all the photos you want, but you probably won’t be able to post until you’re home. Getting a simple text sent can be impossible, calling is frequently off the table entirely if it’s a packed day. Start near the Midway. If you’re coming in the morning and want to get the most out of your day grab your souvenirs and snacks first and then head to the Midway. Ride your favorite rides and then slowly head back toward the grandstands. In the middle of the day the Florida heat can be miserable and there are several large and air-conditioned buildings on that side of the grounds. Check out vendors inside a cool building, head to an art show to escape the heat or stroll over to Neighborhood Village to take in the air conditioned Queen’s Exhibit and displays of local contest winners. By the time you’ve hit all the exhibits several hours will have passed and you will enter prime show time for the festival. You can’t be everywhere at once so study the schedule and pick what interests you most. Some of the free entertainment and shows will blow you away with the raw tal-

ent on display. Eating contests are morbidly fascinating and there are several throughout the week for all food fanatics. One crucial thing to not miss out on is the festival’s agriculture shows. Local youth work tirelessly to raise and train their animals. Whether you’re 100 percent here for an ag show or if you simply want to laugh the festival has the show for you. Go to an animal costume contest. You’ll be fighting tears from laughter at the creative and wacky outfits. Go to a plant show. It is amazing to watch a middle schooler lug out a plant taller than they are and show off their green thumbs. You can even walk away with a gorgeous plant of your own if you’re the winning bid. You can stroll through the halls inbetween shows to meet the contestants and their furry friends. Chickens, rabbits, cows, sheep and pigs all end up at one point or another calling the festival home. Even if it’s 90 degrees out during the day bring a flannel or light jacket if you’re planning on staying for a night show. This is still Florida and the weather could change in any moment.

just any friend, mind you: you have to hit up the folks you know who are most likely to get excited about the opportunities the Florida Strawberry Festival presents for their social media accounts. What photographs better and gets more clout than fair food? Nothing, that’s what — and they know it. So many people are forever chasing clout on social media these days that it shouldn’t be hard to find at least one person who’s somewhere between an extremely active poster and a self-styled “influencer.” Now, I’m not trying to tell you to coerce this person or these people to pay for everything. Don’t be a moocher. But now you’ll be able to split the portions and the cost of all this food with others who want in on that action, or maybe you’ll get lucky and they’ll just buy something outright and ask you to eat some of it. Maybe you’ll be on camera for the first bite, maybe you won’t. Who cares, though? You just hit the jackpot.


I like to eat, so there’s no better place for people like me than fairs and festivals like this one. I’m also a journalist with student loans I probably have to keep paying on for several more years, so I don’t have the money to just go around every day I’m there and buy everything I want to eat. If you’re like me and want to try all these crazy culinary concoctions without ruining your finances the next day, hear me out. The best thing you can do when you want to eat a lot of different kinds of food on a budget is to go with at least one friend. Not

Breanne Williams

Escape the heat by checking out an ag show.




The Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show has found a unique way to bring joy and awe to viewers around the world. BREANNE WILLIAMS STAFF WRITER

The Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show is back and it’s bringing an array of changes to continue to captivate the crowds at the Florida Strawberry Festival. Myra LeCaptain, co-owner of Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show, said she and her husband, Lee, never thought they would travel the world with their professional lumberjack stunt show. Lee was a nuclear engineer when they met several decades ago in Michigan. They fell in love and soon Lee was looking for a change. Out of the blue he said he’d always wanted to try his hand at a lumberjack competition. That was it. Suddenly, the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show was born and it has since gained recognition worldwide for its thrilling and fast-paced entertainment. “It’s good for fairs to change up their entertainment,” LeCaptain said. “We do a lot of repeat events — we’ve probably been to the Strawberry Festival many many times — so that’s how you know you’re proud of your com-

pany. That you’re invited back, that they want you to keep coming and entertaining their guests.” Though she said they always change up the show whenever they come back to town, this year has an abundance of firsts. For the very first time the Florida Strawberry Festival is going to see the Lumberjacks showing off their skills with the Lumberjills. It’s not a first for the group, but it is the first time the Strawberry Festival attendees will have a chance to watch the highly-trained women in action. LeCaptain said the women with their group were trained through their forestry department at Southern Illinois University, where they are attending school. They have a deep passion for forestry and are eager to be able to share that passion with each and every person that stops by their set up at the festival. This year will also look a bit more elaborate than years prior. The company has brought a second trailer with them for the show and will have an even larger venue to showcase the intense competition. The flannel-clad competitors will participate in mini

battles in underhand chopping, stock sawing, modified sawing, springboard chopping, standing block chop, log rolling and more. Every show is a different than the one before due to the spontaneous nature of the competition. The live emcee also keeps things rolling as he relies on audience participation to rev up the show and keep things moving. If the audience is swept up the show tends to run few minutes longer as the crew works even harder to keep the energy alive. “We tell all of our guys, our new ones and our old ones, we say ‘sit back and watch the audience prior to the show,’” LeCaptain said. “The parents are coming in with their kids, the kids are mad, they look stressed out, there’s a lot of people that want to see the show and they’re tired from walking around. You don’t know what people are going through. Once you’re on stage you look down and within 10 minutes their faces are full of joy and laughter. They forget their worries… that’s what we bring, laughter, fun and to forget whatever is bothering you.” While the majority of the show is centered around awe-inspiring

feats of strength, skill and precision the routine is also peppered with educational moments so folks walk away with a better understanding of the environment and what it takes to be able to pull off some of these elaborate tricks. LeCaptain said they’ve made countless friends over the years through the show and have memories that will last a lifetime. One that will forever resonate with her is when they were performing a show in Montana approximately 17 or 18 years ago. It was a 10-day run and around the third day there was a girl in the crowd that captured all of their attention. She had long, black hair and watched every single show that day. In-between sets she would head off to a nearby tree and work on a piece she was knitting. When the next show was preparing to start she came back and watched it again. She did this every day for the rest of their trip. Weeks later when the company finally returned home they found a handwritten letter from the young girl. She told the group she had been having a hard time and had even been contemplat-

ing suicide when she stumbled upon their show. For some reason watching them crack jokes and perform lifted her spirits. It helped bring her peace and changed her mind. She thanked them for bringing even a small dose of joy to the world. LeCaptain said she often thinks of her even all these years later before they step out onto the stage and start another set. “That’s why we do this,” she said. “We want to bring joy to people. We’re constantly working especially now when we’re in booking season. But to us it doesn’t feel like work. It really doesn’t. We meet so many outstanding people across the country. That’s one of my favorite things. So come out and watch our show. You’ll see a lot of competition and a lot of fun and I guarantee the skill these guys can bring will blow you away.” You can watch the Paul Bunyan Lumberjacks vs. Lumberjills show, sponsored by Husqvarna everyday at 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Additional 6 p.m. shows are on Saturdays and Sundays.


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JOIN THE ‘BERRY’ PARADE Two of the most cherished events of the Florida Strawberry Festival are the Grand Parade and the Strawberry Youth Parade.

Breanne Williams

Above: Mayor Rick Lott tossed beads to attendees of the 2018 Grand Parade. Below 1: Dark Horse Music Store transformed its float into a karaoke experience as the riders sang their heart out and danced to the music it had blasting. Below 2: King of the 2018 Baby Parade Mason Wade Goff and Queen Addisyn Danielle Wise. Below 3: Commissioner Mary Mathis during the 2018 Grand Parade.


No festival would be complete without an elaborate parade. Luckily Plant City has not one, but two during the Florida Strawberry Festival to ensure attendees get maximum fun from their visit. The first parade is the Strawberry Youth Parade on March 2. It kicks off at 11 a.m. from the State Farmers Market on the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Alexander Street. Once it’s in full swing it continues north on Alexander Street and west on Reynolds Street. The parade will pass the Florida Strawberry Festival grounds on Reynolds Street and disburse near Sammonds Road. If you’ve been around for a festival before, you know what parades mean to this town. Folks will have their lawn chairs out and on full display at their parade viewing spot hours, if not days, before the actual event. Plant City Police will have officers in the area prior to the event to close streets and control traffic prior and during the parade. If you’re planning to go to the festival during or even up to an hour prior to the parade you may need to consider an alternate route as some of the main intersections through town will be closed down well in advance to increase safety for the event. The Youth Parade is full of participants under the age of 18 and their chaperones. You’ll see a lot of schools, clubs and churches as they are all involved with the youth. Many compete for best float, which could come with a trophy and a $100 prize. Dr. Dan Middlebrooks will announce the 2019 parade from a designated location near South Florida Baptist Hospital. If you want to see floats and marching bands linger, try to get as close to that spot as possible. Fairgoers will set up camp at the festival grounds to watch it as it passes by. This year the Youth Parade will be led by Grand Marshal Katelyn Yarbrough. This Plant City High School senior has a weighted GPA over 7.2 and is involved in a variety of organizations and extracurriculars. The Awards Program for winners in each category will be announced in the Stingray Entertainment Tent 12:30 p.m. at the Florida Strawberry Festival.

Of the two, the Youth Parade is shorter and wraps up within an hour. The Grand Parade on March 4 is an entirely different story. The parade itself kicks off at 1 p.m. in downtown Plant City, but roads throughout downtown will be shut down hours prior. The parade will form at the Plant City Plaza (behind Save-A-Lot) on Prosser Street, Evers Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It will then move north on Evers and west on Reynolds before eventually passing the festival grounds. It takes a final turn south on Sammonds St. and the parade participants will begin to unload. Plant City makes the Grand Parade a pseudo holiday. Many businesses take the day off and chairs are roped off throughout downtown and Reynolds Street well in advance to the actual parade. If you’re lucky enough to live on one of the above mentioned streets you will probably be throwing a viewing party and dozens will flock to take in a lunch and watch the festivities. Those coming to town specifically to watch the parade should consider camping out in downtown along Evers Street early that morning or further down Reynolds near the festival grounds. Parking is nonexistent along Reynolds in historic downtown so it becomes tricky to navigate finding the perfect spot. According to prior estimates from parade committee members, approximately 30,000 people will pack the parade route to watch the extremely long, but overwhelmingly festive event. If you have children be sure to bring snacks, sunscreen and a massive bag for all the goodies they will catch. Those on floats or in vehicles along the route toss out candy, toys, strawberry-themed merchandise, beads and a large variety of eclectic items. If you are able to snag a place toward the start of the route the tossers are always throwing larger quantities than they do further down the route. By the time the parade wraps up people are headed out for one last errand before they run home to begin cooking dinner and wrapping up their day. It’s a great day to go to the festival if you don’t want to run into any locals, but you’ll definitely miss out on one of the greatest traditions of the whole event.

House Crafts

Expo Hall ert c



Free Grandstand


Pioneer Village


Lost & Found Caboose

U.S. 92/Baker Street ke Building Exhibits & Crafts

field Street

mpa East

Art & Photo Shows

MetroPCS M-N-M Construction Mosaic Netterfield’s Concessions Northern Sports O’Reilly Auto Parts Pal Petroleum Pickle Barrel Sirloin Tips

Armory Front Strawberry Growers Display


Swindle Family Pavillion

2: Grimes Family Ag.Belle Center City Amusements 3: Astin Farms Pavillion Guest Services 4: Belle City Amusements Midway 5: West Grandstand Crafts 6: North Exhibit Tent

Wish Farms Soundstage 7: Tent Showcase 8: Arthur Boring Building

Risk Street Connnor Lot

9: Parke Building

PARKING Parking is available on Florida Strawberry Festival property in the Blue, Gray and Red Parking Lots.

13: Main Gate

Pulaski Tix & Tours Rhineland Cutlery Shoemeleons Smithfield Softub Express Southbay Sod Staywell SunTrust Bank

Gate 14

Super Dog SunPass Taco Bus Tampa Bay Rays The Hay Exchange Tobacco Free Florida Toufayan Bakeries True Stim

Oak Avenue


Parking is also available in independent lots around the festival grounds.

10: Entertainment Tent Gran-Plum 11: Lot Lost and Found Caboose 12: Expo Hall




Plum Street

John Martin Street

Entertainment Tent

Woodrow Wilson Street


Pig Races

Belmont Armory Back Festival MAP KEY of

Hull Armory Building


et (S.R. 574)


Exhibits, Horticulture, FEBRUARY 28, 2019Queen’s | 2019 FLORIDA Hall STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL GUIDE

Strawberry PLANT CITY Tent OBSERVER | Crafts & Entertainment

n Co Box ce Offi

Morrow Steel


Stingray Chevrolet Display

Circus Incredible

Lemon Street


For more details, download the offical Florida Strawberry Festival app.

14: Strawberry Tent Uncommon USA

USAA House 15: Carriage

Vision AutoBuilding Glass 16: Hull Armory

Visions ofTent Outdoor Living 17: Showcase WellCare ZTE USA

18: Admin House 19: Neighborhood Village Official Soft Drink

Gate 16

Download Our Mobile App

Gate 1

Gate 5

Gate 13 Gate 10

Reynolds Street

Remember: No matter where you park your car, take note of your spot with photos and notes to help you find it later and reduce your chances of getting lost. Plant City Police Department will not easily be able to help you find your car if you’ve lost track of where you parked it. If it was stolen, that’s a different story. What’s New: See page 39 for an overview of what’s new to the 2019 Florida Strawberry Festival.



PUZZLED ABOUT PARKING? FEAR NOT Parking in lots outside of the Florida Strawberry Festival grounds isn’t just accepted, it’s encouraged. JUSTIN KLINE SPORTS/ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Have you ever been sketched out by the thought of having to park your car on a stranger’s lawn or at a business’s parking lot so you could go to a big event? As understandable as that feeling is, Plant City might be the one place where there’s no need to fear. The Florida Strawberry Festival stands out among its peers for many reasons, but maybe the most notable thing is its commitment to the community and vice versa. It’s a wellknown fact in town that pretty much anywhere you see parking near the festival grounds — even if it’s on someone’s lawn a short golf cart ride away from the main gate — is fair game. Local homeowners and businesses

are encouraged by the festival to open up their free space for the purpose of parking festivalgoers and vendors, and many residents have done so for decades. Opening up one’s space for parking can lead to a pretty nice windfall over the 11-day festival period. Many residents make enough from parking cars to cover their tax bills or come up with a good chunk of change to play around with. For businesses, the extra cash can be put to good use for either themselves or causes they support. For example, Wells Memorial Funeral Home used all the money raised from parking cars in 2016 to help the Willis Peters Exceptional Center

pay for a sunshade for its playground area. Just because these parking areas are legitimate, though, doesn’t mean you should take your own security measures lightly. Always remember to lock your car doors, roll the windows up, hide any valuables and take note of where you parked and how to get back there later. It may seem like boring, basic advice but it’s not to be taken lightly. You’d be surprised how often we see police reports about unlocked cars getting burglarized, so we’re hoping to not have to read about someone stealing a wallet from your cup holder because you got careless.

GETTING THERE If you have plenty of time to kill on a day when you’re going to the festival, feel free to take Interstate 4 to Plant City. You’ll need plenty of time to get there. If not, the best way to get to the festival is to think like a local. You don’t even have to know all of the back roads to save time. If you’re traveling north to get here, consider taking Highway 60. You can either take that up to FL-39 north and turn onto either Alexander Street or US-92, or take it up to Turkey Creek Road and hang a left at US-92. If you’re traveling south to get here, you’re better off taking US-92 all the way to the festival. If you’re coming from Tampa, your best bet may be to take FL-574. That road will take you right to the south side of the festival.


ALL ABOUT THOSE BERRIES Strawberries might be the world’s most interesting fruit. No, we’re not just saying that because we’re biased as the newspaper of the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World — there’s more to Plant City’s most popular export than meets the eye. n The strawberry is the only

fruit in the world that has its seeds on the outside. n Strawberries are perennial plants in the rose family. Though that does mean they aren’t technically berries, good luck getting anyone to believe you when you tell them.

POP QUIZ 1 5 How many seeds are on the outside of a strawberry?

A: 50 B: 100 C: 150 D: 200


How many varieties of strawberries are grown around the world?

n 94% of American house-

A: 108 B: 199 C: 247 D: 305

n The only areas of the world


that grow strawberries but do not have their own native species are Africa, Australia and New Zealand. n The strawberry ripens in the spring faster than any other fruit. Once they’re picked, though, they won’t ripen any longer. n One cup of strawberries is

extremely good for you. We’re talking 160% of your daily value of vitamin C with only 50 calories. It’ll also cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure if you eat them daily.

What is Florida’s most popular strawberry variety?

A: Radiance B: Beauty C: Sweet Sensation D: Elyana


What are Florida’s strawberry season dates?

A: January through April B: December through May C: November through March D: February through June

A: 7.8 B: 5.6 C: 3.4 D: 1.2


What did ancient Romans use strawberries for?

A: Medicine B: Animal feed C: Fragrance D: Currency



Which U.S. state produces the most strawberry crops per

A: Florida B: California C: Delaware D: Vermont


How long does a strawberry plant remain productive?

A: Two years B: Three years C: Four years D: Five years

ANSWERS: 1. D, 2. C, 3. A, 4. B, 5. C, 6. A, 7. B, 8. D

holds consume strawberries every year. (University of Illinois)

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, how many pounds of strawberries do we eat every year?




“It sounds like Kendall really knows how to ‘juggle’ her responsibilities.”

food and soak in the ambiance that only comes once a year. Looking back, Gaudens said she knows that was only possible because of the immense safety measures the festival ensures are in place to keep the fairground monitored and protected. The energy at the bus lot was infectious and to this day she joins her friend in volunteering, jumping on incoming busses and letting the attendees know what events are going on that day and handing out stickers to remind them where the bus is parked. “I’ve been able to experience the festival as the guests do,” Gaudens said. “This festival, really this entire town, has impacted my life and made me into the person I am today. I am so thankful and honored to be able to use this opportunity to serve the festival with the same compassion, love and support that has been showed to me all these years.” She’s one of the brightest students in her class and is set to graduate high school with an AA. From there

Kendall Gaudens

DONS THE CROWN The 2019 Florida Strawberry Festival Queen Pageant is always one of the most cherished events of the year. Plant City High School senior Kendall Gaudens won the coveted crown in January. BREANNE WILLIAMS STAFF WRITER


endall Gaudens doesn’t have generations of her family tree branching out of Plant City. Her parents own HD Wheels on Reynolds Street and brought their family to the strawberry town when Gaudens was a mere three years old. She may not have been born into a family teeming with connections, but Gaudens said she has never thought of anywhere else as home. “I do consider myself raised here, I don’t remember anywhere else,” Gaudens said. “I think that’s something that makes this town special. Everyone here is so welcoming, so kind. My parents have lived all over, but they said this has been the best place one could ever raise a family. I really did fall in love with Plant City.” For Gaudens, Plant City has been her entire world, yet she knows that when she set foot on the vibrant festival grounds as a child she was looking at the experience with a fresh set of eyes. She’s walked in the shoes of an outsider coming in for the first time and because of it she said she feels aptly prepared to open her arms as Queen and show everyone just what makes Plant City and the Florida Strawberry Festival a one-of-a-kind experience. “I decided a long time ago that I wanted to go out for Strawberry Queen,” Gaudens said. “I’ve always looked up to her and her court. I really encouraged my sister to go out for it when she was in high school. She made the

court and in a way I wanted to live vicariously through her.” Last year was the first time Gaudens was old enough to don an evening gown and show off her passion for the festival. However, she had already committed to show a steer. Her family are automotive experts, but their knowledge of livestock is adequate at best. She was using the mentorship of the Joyners, family friends, to help guide her toward success, pouring everything she had into raising the perfect steer. When she tackles something, she gives it 100 percent so she decided to push off her dream for one more year and focus on her animal. “I wanted to do it on my own, to earn the reward on my own of having accomplished this task,” Gaudens said. “I knew it would take up a lot of my time and I didn’t want to do either if I couldn’t give them everything I had. So I chose to focus on my steer and to go out for Strawberry Queen next year.” Gaudens is no stranger to pageantry. While her sister was serving on the Strawberry Queen’s court she had just won the crown for Junior Royalty Queen. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” Gaudens said. “There were 30 other contestants and they were all so smart and well spoken, everyone was so amazing this year. Never in a million years did I dream they would choose me. My goal was to make it to top 10. I struggled to imagine I would be considered a leader of a group. It was such an honor and then my friends were called to be on the court as well. I couldn’t believe

we had the opportunity to represent the festival.” The shock was apparent as Gaudens had a delayed response to her number being called for Queen. She paused, scrunching her face as she glanced down at her number to confirm it was in fact her that had been chosen. Then she burst into tears, which Gaudens said is so unlike her she still is surprised. Now that the weight of the crown has fully settled on her golden locks she is ready to dive into making sure she can impact as many people as she has the chance to meet while she’s serving under this title. She summed up her goal for the next year perfectly with her answer to the question on stage: What do you feel would be the most important quality to have as the 2019 Florida Strawberry Festival Queen? For Gaudens it’s making sure everyone feels loved. Repeating the oft chanted mantra from Maya Angelou she smiled to the massive crowd as she said, “People may not remember what you said, people may not remember what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Her love for the festival began when she was a child. Her best friend’s mother, Susan Batley, has volunteered at the bus lot for as long as Gaudens can remember. Every year she would check her daughter and Gaudens out of school for one special day and take them to enjoy the festival. They would help her at the lot, run around playing games and eating strawberry themed fair

What was your first thought when your name was called? I was in complete shock. This was something I wanted for as long as I can remember. After working so hard for so long, I’m so honored and shocked. It just seemed almost unattainable to me because there were so many amazing girls this year. It honestly still hasn’t hit me yet that all of this is real. What was your family’s reaction? First The first person I saw was my older sister, who was the first maid in 2016. I was crying a lot, but she may have been crying even more. My family, well I guess you could say we were bawling hysterically. Especially since Madi and Kennedy were called as well. My parents, my other older sister, really it was humbling to see them so proud of me. I’m so thankful for them. How would you describe your personality in one word? Comfortable. I think I come across as a very comfortable person. If I’m ever anxious or scared or upset I can hide it and be very personable. You’d never know. I like to make people comfortable around me so I kind of adopt that calm presence. What’s something interesting about you? I can juggle pompoms. Before games on Friday nights we cheer with Sparkle Effect cheerleaders. One day I remember trying to juggle three pompoms and I was actually OK at it. It doesn’t last for too long, but I’m getting better. What are you most excited to eat at the festival? We were just talking to the Lions Club and they told us about this strawberry fritter, which is at the Lions Club booth. I’ve never had that before and it really sounds exciting. What are you most looking forward to about the festival? Seeing all of the people. Last year we had over 526,000 people at-

the plan is to pursue mechanical engineering at the University of Florida. It’s a career she can take anywhere and its one of the things that drew her in most. Eventually she’ll be ready to settle down and start a family. When she is, there’s nowhere other than Plant City she would dream of making that a reality. As for girls coming up behind her who are looking at her court with admiration she only has one simple piece of advice: just believe in yourself. “You can do it, just remember this isn’t about you,” Gaudens said. “People get worked up about their dress, hair or makeup, but that’s not what this is about. You’re going to be part of something much bigger, representing all of the festival and Plant City. Trust God has a plan for you. Keep those two things in mind and you’ll have the perfect mindset to remain calm and still be excited for the pageant.”

tend from all over the nation. It is going to be really cool to see that many people and get to show them what makes the festival and Plant City so special. What is your most used emoji? The laughing face emoji. Honestly probably 95 percent of the time when I’m texting it’s a joke. Who is someone you admire? Who is a woman you admire? This girl Jade at our school. She’s an ESE student and my buddy though football season with cheer. She gets her hair done at the cosmetology building and I’ve sen them give her some really wild hairdos and she just loves it. I admire her so much. She’s taught me that no matter what you’re doing or who you are that you can find joy and strength in every moment. A woman I admire would be Carrie Underwood. She’s one of those people who went through fame and has never really changed under all that pressure. I can’t imagine how she does it and raises a family at the same time. I look up to her a lot. What is a book or story from childhood that had an impact on your life? Mine was the SkippyJon Jones books. I love these books so much. They were fun to read and taught me to not be scared at all what anyone else does or says. They taught me to be my own person. What’s your favorite movie? Favorite Disney movie? The “Transformers: series. I absolutely love those movies. My dad and I always went and saw them in theaters. My favorite Disney movie is “Monsters, Inc.” I’ve loved it since I was little. If you could only watch one TV show for the rest of your life what would it be? “Grey’s Anatomy.” It would take you a solid six months just to watch them all and it’s still going. I’ve watched all the way through it twice already.



What’s something interesting about you? Most people know I’m really into agriculture, but I’ve actually been to 28 states and won 42 belt buckles. It’s something I take very seriously and I work very hard to ensure I’m competing at my best level.

MADILYN CONRAD What was your first thought when your name was called? I never really thought, I’m super involved in the festival, but more on the ag side, I never really thought this was something I could do. Then I said to myself that I needed to get my priorities in line and if I wanted to try it, I should. There was no reason I had to just do one or the other. Whenever I was called, I remember feeling it was signification of relief. Kendall and Kennedy and I have grown up together so to all be able to do this, it’s very exciting.

What are you most excited to eat at the festival? Pickle Barrel steak tips. I’m obsessed with them. Obsessed. What are you most looking forward to about the festival? I’m really excited to experience the festival with these four. While I’m very active in the festival every year, I’m usually only staying around the ag side of the grounds. To be able to branch out and really experience everything, especially with this group, that’s something I’m excited about.

What was your family’s reaction? My family is pretty much everything for me. I’m often overwhelmed to know I have that much support and love. My dad is a typical cowboy and to see even him tear up a little, that shocked me. I have so much support in my corner. My little brother was excited too and I had friends from up north come down for this.

What is your most used emoji? That one that’s the blushing face with the hands up. Who is someone you admire? Who is a woman you admire? Tim Tebow due to the fact that he’s gone through college football, the NFL, MLB and still has held onto his faith and his principles. He lives the Gospel of

How would you describe your personality in one word? Probably calm. I never get super worked up about anything. I’m a girl so sometimes I do get a little emotional, but that’s honestly really rare. Oh and I never meet a stranger. Anything that’s thrown at me I just take and calmly respond to.

Jesus and doesn’t let anything distract him. That’s a super admirable quality. A woman I admire is my great grandmother. She’s 87 and still gets on the lawn mower everyday. She doesn’t stop and I really admire her a lot. What is a book or story from childhood that had an impact on your life? Mine is probably Ramona and Beezus because my sister and I probably acted a lot like them… I read probably every single book published by Beverly Cleary. What’s your favorite movie? Favorite Disney movie? Mine is “The Greatest Showman” because Zach Efron is amazing in it… For Disney it’s definitely “The Lion King.” If you could only watch one TV show for the rest of your life what would it be? “Hart of Dixie.” I’ve watched it like 17 times. It’s about a doctor who’s in a small town — she’s from New York and she comes to this small town— and she has to navigate this completely different life. They even have a pageant. It has a lot of the things I love about Plant City.

“Madilyn offered me a belt buckle but changed her mind when she realized I was not designed with a waist.” File photos





KENNEDY CULLINS What was your first thought when your name was called? I was extremely shocked. I was the first one called and I was so nervous. I tried not to look at my mom because I knew I would start crying immediately. This is my second year doing this so to be chosen, well it really meant so much to me. What was your family’s reaction? My mom was crying, I was crying. She jumped out of her seat and for some reason ripped up the program she got so excited. My aunt was so so happy. She was jumping up and down. I’m naturally a shy person and I think everyone was just so proud to see me come out of my shell and be able to present myself with such confidence in front of all those people. How would you describe your personality in one word? Adaptable. I am a shy person, but depending on the environment I’m in I can come out of my shell if I need too. I can pretty much match the environment I find myself in. What’s something interesting about you? I’m really good at poker, which isn’t a super useful skill. But I did learn how to have a good poker face.

What are you most excited to eat at the festival? I’ve never tried deep fried Oreos. Or deep fried butter, but that doesn’t sound good. So really I guess I just want to try all of the deep fried snacks people rave about. What are you most looking forward to about the festival? I’m most looking forward to being a part of the festival family. We have such an amazing group of directors and staff. Every year more than 2,000 people volunteer to make the festival happen. Without them it wouldn’t be the “hit” it is. What is your most used emoji? The rolling eyes emoji. It mainly goes to my mom. Who is someone you admire? Who is a woman you admire? My mother is probably who I admire most. She has raised me as a single mom my entire life while having two jobs and at the same time going through nursing school. She raised my brother and I and even though she worked all day she still managed to help us get everything we’ve ever needed. She’s my hero.

What’s your favorite movie? Favorite Disney movie? My favorite is a series too. It’s the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. Those are technically Disney too, but if I’m doing another than my favorite Disney movie is probably “Maleficent.” She’s a villain, but she’s not necessarily evil. There’s so much more to the story. I love seeing the different side of the classic tale. If you could only watch one TV show for the rest of your life what would it be? I would watch “Gossip Girl.” I’ve watched it a couple of times through already. I love shopping and they have such glamorous lives. I really enjoy watching it.

“Kennedy has that puh puh puh poker face puh puh poker face!”

What is a book or story from childhood that had an impact on your life? Fancy Nancy. My grandma’s name is Nancy and she’s very stylish and fancy so the books always made me think of her.

ONLINE See more photos of the Florida Strawberry Festival Queen’s Scholarship Pageant at

File photos


“Olivia is so talented! The only makeup I ever did was a makeup test after missing a day at Short Cake University.”




What is your most used emoji? That emoji that is winking and kissing at the same time with a heart.

What was your first thought when your name was called? I remember first I looked at my mom and found her in the crowd. Then I immediately started crying. This is something we all have wanted forever. There was so much emotion in the room that night. What was your family’s reaction? They were overwhelmed. My brother, he was who I was surprised was so emotional. He and I are super close. To see him tear up, that struck me. That’s when this all started to sink in. Then my mother was emotional too. I’m so close to her and she watched me go through all the hard work and coaching to get here. She’s definitely been the backbone of our family. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without her. How would you describe your personality in one word? Free. Through all of high school I’ve really come to love

who I am and what I stand for. I feel more confident and comfortable with myself and with meeting new people. What’s something interesting about you? I do people’s makeup, I freelance with it. It’s not just a hobby, it’s something I take very seriously. I’ve done professional jobs for proms and I recently just did my first wedding. It’s not my career choice, but it’s something I love a lot and I hope to keep doing for a long time. What are you most excited to eat at the festival? The Island Noodle Stand. It’s so good. I cannot wait to stop by. I really, really love it. What are you most looking forward to about the festival? All of the musical stuff. Not just the 24 big acts at the grandstands, but also the free entertainment. This year is also the beginning of the Battle of the Bands, which is going to be really cool.

Who is someone you admire? Who is a woman you admire? My grandma. She was a pastor’s wife for almost 40 years and I’ve never met someone more accepting or hospitable. She loves everyone where they are and has truly taught me what it means to genuinely care for others. What is a book or story from childhood that had an impact on your life? A lot of the American Girl Doll books really made an impact on me. I learned so much without even realizing it about not just history, but how culturally the times were in all of their lives. Sometimes whenever someone talks about a certain decade I instantly think back to a story I read from one of those books. What’s your favorite movie? Favorite Disney movie? My favorite movie is “The Little Rascals.” I’ve adored it forever. The “Princess Diaries” movies are my favorite Disney movies. I watched them with my grandma and she would always say I’m her little princess. If you could only watch one TV show for the rest of your life what would it be? “Riverdale.” It’s so good. I’ve rewatched season one five times… I’m team Veronica all the way.

File photos




JADA BROWN What was your first thought when your name was called? It was kind of nerve wracking because I was the last name called. I just remember it being almost a sigh of relief. I looked out into the crowd and saw my family and we were all so excited. I remember feeling overwhelmed, but so happy. What was your family’s reaction? My family was very stoked. My nannie, she was crying and I felt very happy she was proud of me. At one point she almost left the building because she was so nervous when they were calling names. For her to be able to see this, that meant the world to me. My whole family was so happy and proud that I was able to accomplish this. How would you describe your personality in one word? Outgoing. I love interacting with other people. Through the pageant process I gained 30 new friends. I hope to gain even more while representing the festival. What’s something interesting about you? I’m culturally diverse. In the past there’s not been very many culturally diverse people on the court so I’m honored to be able to add that outlook to the group and to be able to represent others during the festival. I know what this means, after all I’ve been looking at the court my whole life. File photos

What are you most excited to eat at the festival? Those really big strawberry milkshakes with fruity pebbles and a whole slice of cake on the top. I can probably finish one by myself. They look so good. What are you most looking forward to at the festival? To experience the festival from a different look. To interact with people and really show the festival off from a diverse point of view. Meeting all the people who attend is something I’m really looking forward to. What is your most used emoji? The smirk emoji. I send that one all the time. Who is someone you admire? Who is a woman you admire? Both of my grandmothers. My mom’s mom is very supportive. Even if she can’t physically help me she finds a way. She bought me my dream dress for the pageant, it meant so much to me. My other grandma recently passed away, but she showed so much love to us… She was one of the strongest women I know. A woman I admire is the current Miss America, Nia Franklin. I love working with children and she and I have that in common. She’s such an inspiration. What is a book or story from childhood that had an impact on your life? The Magic Treehouse books. When I read the books as a child they lead me into a fantasy

adventure that took me all over the world. They went everywhere and saw all kinds of things throughout history. What’s your favorite movie? Favorite Disney movie? My favorite movie is actually “Elf.” I have this serious obsession with Christmas. For Disney it’s “Lilo & Stitch.” If you could only watch one TV show for the rest of your life what would it be? “Pretty Little Liars.” My sister and I used to watch it growing up. It’s definitely a mystery thriller so it keeps you hooked. And there are so many seasons. It would take a long time to watch all the way through.

“Jada made 30 new friends! Every time I make a new friend, they suddenly bring out their fork.”




eing from a small town like Plant City has been so meaningful to me. This community has so much to offer and everyone in the area is invested in our great town! One of the most unique and special events we have here is the Florida Strawberry Festival. I’ve been going to the festival since I was a little girl to ride rides, eat awesome food, and to also see my Dad play in his bluegrass band. It was especially exciting to me as a little girl when the queen and court would come up on the stage and take part in the activities. As I got a little older, I looked up to the queen and court and began to realize that they were more than just beauty queens. They were also there to serve the community and represent the festival in the most positive way possible.

I never really envisioned myself becoming Strawberry Queen, but as I matured and wanted to grow as a person, I realized that participating in the pageant would not only be fun, but would also help me gain confidence and leadership skills and give me a chance to promote my lovely small town. Last year, I had so much fun preparing and practicing for the pageant. Of course I was a little nervous since it was my very first pageant, but I knew I had done all I could do to prepare, so I prayed for a calm spirit and guidance so that God may be glorified through this experience no matter the outcome. The pageant on January 20 came quickly, and to my surprise, I was named Miss Congeniality and then crowned the 2018 Strawberry Festival Queen! First, I would like to thank the

Plant City Lion’s Club for sponsoring the pageant and making the whole process of the pageant run smoothly. The hard work that was put into the pageant to make it successful and so much fun did not go unnoticed. The court members and I feel so grateful to have received scholarships so that we may continue to grow and develop into contributing members of our community. To The Florida Strawberry Festival Directors and your spouses, thank you for all of your kindness and support throughout this extraordinary experience. I find it very admirable that each of you volunteer your time and energy from the kindness of your hearts to make the festival the great event that it is. The court and I enjoyed attending events with you and learning the importance of volunteering for our community. I would like to give a special shout out to festival President Paul Davis for all the joy and love you brought into our lives. You are one of the most genuine and uplifting people I have ever known and anyone who meets you should consider themselves lucky! You are truly the epitome of a great leader and a giving person. I would also like to thank Mr. Timmy for escorting us to the events and making sure we were well taken care of. The girls and I were always comforted by your kindness and generosity. We enjoyed getting to know you both and we had so many good times throughout the year. The court and I feel as if you both are truly a part of our families. Throughout my reign as queen, the court and I were blessed with two wonderful “strawberry moms,” Mrs. Donna and Mrs. Di. Each of you brought something special to the group. Mrs. Donna, thank you for keeping us on schedule and well-focused, and for teaching the importance of being positive and poised and teaching us the importance of being good ambassadors for the festival. In addition to teaching us about our responsibilities you also put many smiles on our faces and never failed to crack us up with your country sayings and sassy personality! Thank you for all of your work behind-the-

scenes; it really shows how much love and dedication you have for the festival and for us girls. Mrs. Di, thank you for always being a positive light; not only for us, but also for the rest of the community. Thanks for your great photography skills and for making the best lemonade and guacamole we have ever put in our mouths! The two of you have made such an impact on my life and have taught me so many important life lessons. Although my reign has come to a close, I am certain that the bond and relationship we have formed will last forever. Being the queen of the festival brought me so much more than I ever imagined! Being an only child, I often thought it would be so cool to have siblings. My court members, fondly called “My Strawberry Sisters” have become like the siblings I never had! Dallas, Selena, Baylee and Zoe, each of you are very special to me and I know that we will remain friends for life! This year would have not been the same without the four of you! The special memories we made together could never be matched by any others. I feel so blessed that the judges thought we would all make a great team serving the Festival and the community. Dallas, we can always count on you for a good laugh, your sweet and uplifting spirit is something that is so contagious. Selena, you always know the right words to say and when to say them, you have the perfect amount of sass that always adds a little spice to the group. Zoe, I have never met someone who loves trail mix as much as you! You have a heart of gold and are one of the most genuine people I have ever met. Baylee, you are the perfect example of a selfless person, and without a doubt, I know I could call you with anything and you would have an open heart and listening ear. Each of you have brought so much happiness into my life and I really feel like one of the luckiest girls in the world to have had the chance to become best friends with each of you! I want to thank all of my friends who supported me before, during, and after the pageant. I don’t even know how I would have done it without your encouragement! I am also so appreciative of my


teachers and principal of Seffner Christian Academy who worked with me and for giving me time off from school to serve the festival. My biggest supporters in the world are my family. Without a strong support system, participating in a pageant would be difficult. I would like to thank my sweet parents for all of your love and support. Your wise guidance has helped shape me into the person I am today. Mom, thank you for all of the late night talks and for all the selfless love you’ve given me throughout my life. And Dad, thank you for all of your encouragement and for pushing me to be my best and for giving me lots of good laughter! You both have always been my biggest supporters and my very best friends. I’m so lucky that God chose you to be my parents. Plant City is the greatest town, famous for its red and juicy strawberries, and the Florida Strawberry Festival is the most wellknown event in our town. It has truly been wonderful to serve as the festival queen and has been such an honor to represent our town. The court members and I appreciate all the warm support we have been given. There is no other place like good ole Plant City! This past year has felt like a dream. It has flown by so quickly, but the court members and I have experienced so many once-in-alifetime events in such a short span of time! So many precious memories have been made as we have grown together as young women. I sincerely hope that we have and will continue to make a positive impact on our community as we embark on new chapters in our lives. We will always have a very special place in our hearts for Plant City and for our Florida Strawberry Festival Once again, thank you all so much for allowing me to serve as your 2018 Strawberry Queen. It has, and will always remain a true blessing in my life. With Love and Gratefulness,

Ally Burt





KANDU MAGIC SHOW TO SAY GOODBYE AT FESTIVAL The Florida Strawberry Festival is one of the last venues Jef and Jill Eaton will perform at before retiring.



he Florida Strawberry Festival is giving people one last chance to see one of America’s most prolific children’s magic shows. Jef and Jill Eaton’s wacky, energetic performances have delighted children at fairs and festivals around the country for the last 33 years. Kandu Magic Show’s “farewell tour” now has three stops left before the Eatons hang up their rabbit-filled hats. “It’s been marvelous. We’ve had a ball,” Jef Eaton said. “The traveling’s starting to get real hard. Trying to keep the trailer on the road, safe, when you’re getting older, it sneaks right up on you. If it was just going out and

doing the show, I’d keep doing it until I die.” It’s not hard to see why. The Eatons pull out all the stops to make sure every kid leaves their shows with a big smile. Their magic shows blend Jef Eaton’s audience-assisted tricks and illusions with Jill Eaton’s sound effects and a healthy dose of comedy. Kandu’s Wild & Wacky Game Shows are as close to classic Nickelodeon children’s games shows as you can get, serving up plenty of goofy, fun games that get kids moving and playing. “We’re kind of like human cartoons,” Jef Eaton said. Kandu Magic Show has gone on the road for seven and a half

months each year since starting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1986. Though the Eatons have performed all over the country, the show has become a frequent staple at similar fairs and festivals. The Sangamon County Fair in New Berlin, Illinois, for example, has hosted the Eatons consistently for the last 30 years — longer than anyone else. Kandu’s farewell tour has been “bittersweet,” Jef Eaton said. Adult audience members have stuck around after shows to say goodbye and tell the Eatons about their memories of watching the shows from when they were kids. “That’s really bizarre when you think of it,” Jef Eaton said. “They

were in the show when they were 6 or 7, then they come back and bring their own kids to the show later.” Jef Eaton said this will be the third time Kandu has performed at the Florida Strawberry Festival. Unlike their last performance in Plant City, the Wild & Wacky Game Show won’t be featured in 2019. But the Kandu Magic Show alone offers enough wacky fun for everyone, he said, and the Strawberry Festival crowd is a good one for it.

“That’s a great festival,” he said. “I like the concerts and the people, it’s a good crowd. They run a really nice festival.” The Strawberry Festival shows will feature a healthy mix of tricks and performances to keep things fresh for four shows a day on each of the 11 days. “The reaction of the kids is what really makes the show fresh all the time,” Jef Eaton said. “That makes it fun.”




Deep-fried strawberry cheese bursts are a festival classic.

“Sometimes I joke about strawberries being delicious, but this place is no joke, y’all. Go ahead and enjoy these delectable concoctions, but please chew quietly. My pals and I will observe a moment of silence for our fallen brothers Courtesy photos and sisters.”

Feeling adventurous? Take a bite out of these new foods at the 2019 Florida Strawberry Festival. JUSTIN KLINE SPORTS/ASSOCIATE EDITOR


hat’s a fair without wild, wacky food? The Florida Strawberry Festival does not play around when it comes to good eats. Anybody looking for food as unique as it is delightful will be right at home at the festival, and this year is no exception. There are even vegan options coming this year for people who want the fair food experience without the absurd calorie counts. MAPLE COTTON CANDY (MEIG’S CONCESSIONS)

What more needs to be said? It’s cotton candy with a maple syrup

flavor. Good luck finding that anywhere else. If you’re really on a breakfast kick, you might try pairing it with chocolate-covered bacon from Mavric’s.


Dark chocolate and cherry flavors combine for a one-of-a-kind funnel cake experience. This treat is served with chocolate icing and fresh strawberries.


Here’s an ice cream cone that’s sure to turn heads. Hawaiian Honey Cones’ signature sweet

treat is a J-shaped cone full of Hokkaido-style vanilla ice cream in both ends. These cones are gluten-free and do not contain high fructose corn syrup — it’s 100 percent organic corn cane.


It’s kosher, it’s vegan, it’s dairyfree and it’s sure to please the taste buds. This cold treat is a great way to beat a hot day.


This take on the infamous “Luther burger” comes topped with a strawberry doughnut in

lieu of a traditional bun. This bacon cheeseburger is also dressed with strawberry mayo and sweet strawberry relish, Gouda cheese, lettuce and onion. It’s truly a burger for the brave. If the doughnuts aren’t doing it for you, you can replace them with toasted brioche buns.


We’re not quite sure what the difference between regular cookie dough and “edible” cookie dough is, but the Happy Dough Company does offer an option for people who will do anything to avoid get-

ting salmonella. You can order it as-is or fried and this vendor also has a crunchy cookie dough crumble cannoli for sale.


This might be the ultimate dessert quesadilla. This one comes filled with cheesecake and strawberry glaze with graham crackers and it’s finished with whipped cream and a strawberry on top.



WHAT’S NEW IN 2019 LADIES OF LEE This ensemble has given numerous students the opportunity to utilize their desire to sing for the glory of God and the edification of the Church. The Ladies of Lee group is comprised of women representing a variety of majors at Lee University. Come and enjoy the fellowship and sounds of the Ladies of Lee.

KARI & BILLY Kari & Billy are a husband and wife country music duo from Nashville, Tenn. They formed as a duo in 2011 and have since opened for several top 40 artists including Florida Georgia Line, Brett Eldredge, Scotty McCreery, Rodney Atkins, Chris Young, Kellie Pickler, Montgomery Gentry and Collin Raye. With two singles released to radio, Kari & Billy have been featured on Music Row’s Country Breakout Chart. MEET PAUL JR. OF “AMERICAN CHOPPER” Motorcycle master Paul Teutul, Jr. has been molding metal into shape since the age of 12, when he began his apprenticeship at his father’s steel business. He’s widely recognized as the chief designer and fabricator of some of the world’s most famous motorcycles and is featured in the hit television series “American Chopper” on the Discovery Channel.

Courtesy of Kandu Magic Show

The Kandu Magic Show’s farewell tour comes to Plant City this year.

There’s something for everyone to enjoy at the Florida Strawberry Festival, year in and year out. The 84th annual festival is no exception. While festival-goers will be able to enjoy many of the tried and true Florida Strawberry Festival staples once again, from exciting concerts at the Wish Farms Soundstage to the midway rides for all ages and more ag shows than you can shake a steer show stick at, there will also be plenty of new features to keep your 2019 experience fresh.

2019 FLORIDA STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL BATTLE OF THE BANDS The top nine bands have been chosen from a field of 20 during the online voting portion of the festival’s first official battle. Preliminary battles will take place in the Publix Showcase Tent on Thursday, Feb. 28, Tuesday, March 5 and Thursday, March 7. The final battle event will take place on the Wish Farms Sound Stage on Saturday, March 9, 2019 at 3:30 p.m. with the winning band receiving over $15,000 in cash and prizes. POMPEYO DOG SHOW Jorge, Natalya and their wonderful dogs have been performing together for over 10 years throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean with extraordinary success. They have been featured in such venues as Circus Sarasota, Lone Star Circus, Circus Vazquez and, more recently, the hit television show “America’s Got Talent” season 12, where the Pompeyo act finished as a semifinalist. THE KANDU MAGIC SHOW The Kandu Magic Show has traveled nationwide entertaining family audiences performing at conventions, fairs, festivals and symphony orchestras and even at a

zoo! Kandu and Jill “The Music Lady” create a show like no other. Incorporating live music, sound effects, sight gags, slapstick comedy and audience participation, this show captivates both the young and the young at heart.

PAUL BUNYAN LUMBERJACKS VS. LUMBERJILLS SHOW The Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show is returning to the Florida Strawberry Festival with a brand new act! Joining the Big Burly Lumberjacks will be the Lumberjills who are ready for fun and friendly competition. This will be a battle royale you don’t want to miss! MR. & MISS BERRY Mr. Berry and Miss. Berry, the Florida Strawberry Festival’s official mascots, love meeting festival guests and having their picture taken! There is no better way to commemorate a visit to the festival than by getting a picture with the berry best. Mr. and Miss Berry meet-and-greets take place each day. MONSTER JAM TRUCK Come see and take pictures with the original designed Monster Jam World Finals truck. This truck is a preview for the Monster Jam World Finals that will take place in Orlando for the first time ever in May. LITTLE MANSION Little Mansion is an original alternative/indie rock project featuring some of the best musicians in Tampa Bay, including recording artist Logan Grant on lead vocals. Influences include Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Weezer, The Bleachers and Third Eye Blind.

DAKIN DAIRY FARMERS MILKING SHOW Dakin Dairy Farms mission is to produce superior quality farm fresh milks, cheeses and butters. Owned and operated by a multi-generational Florida dairy farm family, they invite you to visit the exhibit to taste the difference in Dakin Dairy Farms products. MEET NFL LEGEND MIKE ALSTOTT Come and meet the “A-Train.” The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback spent his entire 12-year career in Tampa and was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl champion. Event descriptions courtesy of the Florida Strawberry Festival.




A partnership between HCSO and PCPD ensures the hundreds of thousands of guests that come to Plant City for the 11-day event remain safe and sound. BREANNE WILLIAMS STAFF WRITER


hen you have hundreds of thousands of people flooding into Plant City for the Florida Strawberry Festival safety is a top priority for local law enforcement. Florida Strawberry Festival General Manager Paul Davis and Security Manager Tim Lovett are both former deputies with Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Their partnership with HCSO allows Plant City Police to be able to handle safety throughout the city while deputies tackle security inside the grounds. Guests come through a mandatory bag check with a security wand at the festival’s entrance, cars that will be on the grounds after hours have to be pre-registered and the volunteers and guests heavily utilize the “see something, say something” mantra. Only emergency vehicles are allowed inside the festival during its operating hours. The festival spends approximately $500,000 annually on security and have the entire interior and perimeter heavily patrolled with mounted, bike and on foot officers. HCSO has a major set up remote base inside the grounds and officers patrol the entire grounds and set up show at some of the major shows and events. You’ll be hard pressed to walk into any room or

section of the festival and not see the white uniforms. Once you step out the gates you’ll see a scattering of officers in navy as PCPD handles traffic, pedestrian safety and all outlying Plant City. It’s a feat that is only able to be pulled off thanks to the partnership between units. “HCSO handles the inside and we handle everything outside the grounds,” PCPD Spokesman Al Van Duyne said. “It’s a partnership that has been going on for many years. We get along great and really utilize our different strengths. You’ll see our guys pulling extra shifts to help and you’ll see a lot of their’s taking their vacation days and using them to work the festival. We all want this to go off without a hitch.” If you’re inside the festival and have a problem you create a larger issue when you leave the property and attempt to have a PCPD officer help you with the issue. If it occurred within festival grounds you should seek out one of the HCSO officers in white to get your problem solved as quickly as possible. The major increase in pedestrian traffic is always a concern for PCPD. Parking is an intense experience at the festival and to circumvent it many park a mile or two away and walk or take a shuttle to the gates. You’ll see families with small children walking along

the side of Alexander Street and with the major increase in traffic it quickly becomes a stressful commute. Van Duyne asks drivers to operate their vehicle with extra care during the 11-days. Leave at least a half car length if not more inbetween you and the vehicle in front of you. Odds are high the person behind you will not notice you’ve come to a stop and you’ll want the extra space to move out of the way when they slam on their brakes. Don’t run red lights. They change quickly here in Plant City and police will be watching for any traffic infractions. Those who throw caution to the wind may very well be barreling into a cross walk that just turned and eager children that have darted out could be at stake. To combat the heavily increased foot traffic a pedestrian signal will be in operation at Edwards St. and W. Reynolds St. throughout the festival. PCPD has been understaffed for years. According to Van Duyne the average number of officers have stayed the same for decades despite the immense growth throughout the city. Add nearly 600,000 guests to town and the department is stretched to its limit. “Primarily we just have to know that, hey, it’s 11 days, so let’s do what we can to get through it,” Van Duyne said. “It’s an inevi-

table event, it’s going to happen. We — from the chief down — try to be very positive. What people don’t know is it’s 11 straight days of work for our officers. If you’re not on traffic you’re at the festival. You’re working nonstop. We understand it’s rough for us to deal with, but it’s by and large a positive experience. We know we’re making a difference so pulling the extra hours, taking those extra shifts isn’t so difficult.” This year, commuters and police have the extra stress of road closures throughout Plant City. Woodrow Wilson St. between W. Reynolds St. and Oak Ave. has been closed from Jan. 19 to March 22. Ritter Street, from Reynolds Street north to Cleveland Street, is closed through March 15. Edwards Street, from West Reynolds Street to Oak Avenue, is also closed until March 15 and Oak Avenue, from Edwards Street west to Ritter Street will be closed until March 13. The officers work tirelessly to attempt to keep response time at the same level it was prior to the festival as the normal patrol will remain in place. However, those living around the festival should be aware the traffic could cause a slight delay if there is a nonemergency problem. “Our officers working the festival are working on a different channel than the rest of our force,” Van Duyne said. “But someone at the unit monitor both channels so

if something happens, say there is an emergency on the the North West side of town, the officers near the festival can stop pedestrians and open the roadways to expedite traffic and funnel the cars through so it’s not impeding any police or ambulance vehicles we know are on the way.” The Grand Parade is such an elaborate event that extra Florida Highway Patrol reserve troopers as well as extra HCSO deputies come out to help PCPD secure the many roadways, but up barriers and keep the thousands of viewers safe. PCPD’s Facebook page will have routinely updated posts on roadway closures throughout the event. Van Duyne said the ultimate goal is to keep people safe and vigilant throughout the entire experience. “It’s truly a mindset,” Van Duyne said. “You breathe and you get through it. You gotta be a glass half full kind of person. Weekdays aren’t that bad, really Monday through Thursday are relatively calm. Weekends are off the chain and you just have to buckle down. The weather always plays a big part in what we prepare to see. If it’s cool less people tend to come. Rain is a deterrent. Heat doesn’t really see to keep people home. So we monitor everything and do what we have to do to make sure all of Plant City stays safe.”



SPEED DEMONS The 10th annual Stingray Chevrolet/Unity in the Community raffle features a unique Corvette Z06.



ith just $5 and a little luck, you could leave the Florida Strawberry Festival with a one-of-akind Chevrolet Corvette Z06. The 10th annual Stingray Chevrolet/ Unity in the Community raffle’s grand prize is one of the fastest cars $85,000 can buy, a brand new Corvette with a 650-horsepower engine that can take you from 0 to 60 in 2.95 seconds. What also makes Stingray’s Z06 special is its good looks: it’s got a custom coating of “Sebring Orange” paint with black aluminum wheels and a black leather interior to match. It’s a much different look than usual, as Stingray usually offers cars in various shades of red, but it’s as eyecatching as anything the dealership has ever offered — even if your eye only sees it as a blur speeding down the highway. If you have at least $5 and can be present at the dealership after the festival to claim your prize, you’re good to go. Jim and Kathy Goldinger, winners of the 2018 raffle, managed to win with just one ticket purchase, but contestants can buy up to 50 tickets for themselves if they wish. You don’t have to be present at the festival during the March 10 announcement to win the car but you must claim the prize within 72 hours and visit the Stingray dealership to get the car. What if a Corvette’s not your style, or not what you need? You’ve still got options. Stingray does allow winners to choose alternate prizes that add up to

the cost of the Corvette. The Goldingers decided to take a 2018 Chevrolet Traverse High Country SUV and a check for the $13,360 difference last year. In 2017, winner Mark Morgan turned the Corvette Grand Sport prize into one car and two SUVs for his three daughters. Perhaps the best part about the raffle, if you’re looking beyond your Corvette driving dreams, is that every cent raised will be pumped into the Plant City community to help people in need. Stingray never takes a profit from the raffle, instead donating all of the funds raised to Unity in the Community no matter how large or small the total is. Unity in the Community then spreads all the money around for scholarships, charities, food banks and youth and family organizations. The raffle raised $207,000 last year alone and has generated more than $1,259,000 for the community over the last decade. You have three options for buying tickets. Online purchases can be made at until 3 p.m. March 8. In-person purchases can be made at Stingray Chevrolet, 2002 N. Frontage Road, or at the festival. The deadlines for in-person purchases are 6 p.m. March 8 at Stingray and 4:30 p.m. March 10 at the festival. The winner’s name and phone number, not ticket numbers, will be called at the festival and the winner will be notified by phone if they are not present. For more information about Unity in the Community, visit unityinplantcity. org.

“My StrawFriends and I go from zero to delicious in about 30 days. Take that, Corvette! Can a Corvette hug you and keep you warm at night? Can a Corvette be there for you in times of need? Can a Corvette listen to your problems? No! Oh wait ... neither can I.”






The Florida Strawberry Festival’s annual Lamb contests are some of the most unique agriculture shows in Florida.

Breanne Williams

Kids never fail to get creative with their livestock. BREANNE WILLIAMS STAFF WRITER


he Patterson Co. Livestock Arena is filled with laughing guests every year as local youth participate in a Lamb Costume Contest, the Lamb Jumping Contest, the Lamb Showmanship Contest and the Lamb Show. “Honestly I think all of the livestock shows are important to showcase to the public how well these animals are taken care of,” chairman Rhonda Burnett said. “Lots of animal agriculture gets a bad rap by people that have no idea what they’re talking about. Patrons, I think, are sometimes shocked when they talk to the kids about their project, whether its lamb, berries, steer or anything else, and they find how educated and passionate our youth are.” The lamb shows began in the early 90s and have since grown into beloved events. Jim Jeffries, Festival board member, was there when it all began. They thought about adding a market sale, but decided against it because of the success of the pig and steer sales at the same festival. They feared detracting from the other sales so they came up with the idea of adding a show to the lineup. “It wasn’t long after the early event that they added the other lamb contests to the schedule,” Jeffries said. “The Jumping Contest is really popular. They have a high jump, which is only about a foot tall of course. Then they have the costume contest. It really challenges kids and it’s amazing what they come up with.” The jumping contests are one of the more lighthearted agriculture shows at the festival. You can see youth take their lambs around the ring and have them attempt to make mild jumps. It doesn’t take long to suss out who has practiced at home and who is winging it with their fluffy companions. Burnett said working with lambs is one of the best ways for a youth that is interested in agriculture to dip their toes in the industry. She said the animals are “more manageable” and children can start younger and still be able to handle the fluffy creatures in the ring. Another benefit is the rigorous judging requirements for the Lamb Showmanship. There are so many intricacies to the show it ultimately makes phenomenal leaders in the ring. The committee does its best to find qualified judges from across the state, but with sheep not being a major industry here they sometimes head up into Georgia to find the perfect match for the contest. After all, the festival wants the youth to learn meaningful lessons based on the feedback from those who judge the competitions. “If they can learn to show a sheep when they’re young, they can do anything,” Burnett said. “There are so many more ‘rules,’ if they can learn that they can show anything. The ewes are sweet and a great place to start with kids.” What draws in crowds from across the state, however, is the unique and often hilarious Lamb Costume Contest. You never know what you’ll see when you gather around the arena for the costume

show. Last year children dressed their lambs up as airplanes, dragons and a Dalmatian. One young student dressed up as a baker and had her lamb pull a giant cake around the arena. As it approached the judges the cake began to move and her little sister popped out of the decadent dessert. Judges have quite a challenge selecting winners from the sometimes 30-40 contestants in the Best Overall, Most Elegant, Most Colorful, Most Creative, Funniest and Most Original categories. after the hordes of children wrangle their elaborately decorated sheep into the ring they slowly walk them around, highlighting every nuance of the outfit for the crowd and ecstatic judges. The contestants range from five years old to 18 years old and many make it a tradition to come back every year with more creative and innovative designs. She said as a committee they are always excited when they see names pop up from the year before because they know they’re going to bring their A-game. It’s bittersweet in a way, as Burnett said they’ve watched generations grow up and move on to mentoring others. She became involved with the show after her daughter, who was age eight at the time, began participating. Burnett educated herself on the process of raising and showing sheep and soon her entire family became heavily invested in the program. It wasn’t long before she was approached to take over. Her daughter is now 31, but Burnett continues to pour into the program. “One year I remember the contestant was Cinderella and she had her horses and pumpkin carriage,” Burnett said. “The contestant had their two sheep be the horses and they pulled the pumpkin. A couple years ago we had a Roman soldier and the sheep was a horse pulling a chariot. Their little sister was dressed up like a Roman goddess and rode in the chariot. You never know what you’ll see.” The Lamb Jumping Contests is on March 4 at 2:30 p.m. The costume contest is the same day at 7 p.m. The Lamb Showmanship competition is March 5 at 3 p.m. and the Lamb Show is at 5 p.m.

Breanne Williams

This cake-themed lamb costume was a hit.






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A BERRY INTRIGUING COURTSHIP Mr. Berry’s new friend, Miss Berry, is tagging along this year to check out the Florida Strawberry Festival.


Mr. Berry has been capturing hearts at the Florida Strawberry Festival for years. Now he’s being joined by his new berry-intriguing friend Miss Berry. The giant berry mascot makes routine appearances at the festival, waves to the thousands of attendees at the parade and frequently pops in to cherished events around town. This year he’s bashfully showing off the town he loves to his friend as they take in the sights together. “It began in the year’s strawberry fields as the dew settled on the blooms and warm days and cool nights brought about a new and luscious crop,” Tommy Warnock said at the Florida Strawberry Festival Volunteer Appreciation Banquet. “But this year there was one ‘Berry Berry Special Berry’ that caught the eye of our own, Mr Berry.” The courtship is still new and the duo are far from ready to “settle down.” Guests can get their photo taken with the sweet pair every day from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the TrueStep Gazebo on the festival grounds.

Jennifer Morgan, public relations and media representative for the Florida Strawberry Festival, said it’s an addition the festival has been itching to get started for years. The festival knew it wanted a special mascot to represent the 11-day event in a “fun and inviting way” for any guests who were young or even those who are seasoned but still have youthful hearts. From that desire Mr. Berry was born and he quickly became a major hit. Morgan said whenever her family goes to Disney, she always gravitates toward Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck. When the idea was floated again this year to bring a female companion onboard she was 100 percent behind the idea and quickly got to work helping make it a reality. “She has been a hit,” Morgan said. “She’s only been here since November and everywhere she’s gone the children, usually children get nervous about those kind of things, and sometimes that occasionally happened, but what I’ve noticed in the last couple of

weeks is she gets a lot of hugs and smiles from the youth. She’s excited to be here and I think the public is really happy to have her.” While they currently are still remaining in the friends stage she joked oneway we might see a “lovely courtship blossom” and perhaps even get to watch the ringing of wedding bells unfold. Any guests who wish to meet the pair at the festival should be on time, if not early, as the line tends to get long. The duo arrive promptly at their designated time and have to leave as soon as the clock strikes the end of their session. However, if you’re just wanting to catch a glimpse of the pair you will more than likely see them popping up at special events all over the festival. Mr. Berry wants to show off his beloved town after all so they will be taking in the sights, competitions and activities all across the grounds.

Breanne Williams

Miss Berry came out to the Strawberry Picking challenge to meet guests.



STRAWBERRY-THEMED RECIPES Refrigerate dough 30 minutes to 1 hour. Remove and roll into 1 1/2 to 2 inch ball shaped cookies. Bake at 350 degrees for 9 to 11 minutes. Remove from oven. Let rest on baking sheet for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to completely cool on baking rack


CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY CREAM WHOOPIE PIES PREP TIME: 15 MINUTES COOK TIME: 11 MINUTES TOTAL TIME: 26 MINUTES SERVINGS: 32 Strawberry Jam infused Marshmallow Cream is sandwiched between two decadent triple chocolate cookies to create these delicious Chocolate Strawberry Cream Whoopie Pies Ingredients Strawberry Cream Filling 2 sticks butter, softened 3 cups powdered sugar 1 (7 ounce) jar marshmallow creme 1 tsp vanilla 1/2 to 3/4 cup strawberry jam Cookies 2 boxes dark chocolate cake mix 2 sticks butter, softened 2 tsps vanilla 8 ounces cream cheese softened 2 cup Oreo cookies, crushed 2 cup semi sweet chocolate morsels Directions: Cookies Mix cake mix, butter, egg and vanilla extract. Add in cream cheese and beat until combined. Stir in Oreo chunks and chocolate morsels.

STRAWBERRY CREAM FILLING With a stand or hand mixer beat butter until fluffy. Slowly add in powdered sugar. Add in marshmallow creme. Then add in vanilla and jam and mix. Scoop or pipe mixture between two cooled cookies. Serve or store in airtight container in the refrigerator

18 ounces BBQ Sauce Directions: Combine meatballs, strawberry jam, jalapeno pepper jelly, and BBQ Sauce into slow cooker. Stir. Cover and cook on high for 2 to 3 hours or on low for 4 to 6 hours.

STRAWBERRY AND GOAT CHEESE BRUSCHETTA Ingredients 1 whole baguette 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil Freshly-cracked pepper 1 cup of sliced Florida strawberries 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar 4 ounces fresh goat cheese

RECIPE NOTES If filling is a litter softer than you like let sit in the refrigerator a few minutes. The mixture will set up naturally, but this will speed it up. AUTHOR: MARA LATORRE — THE FUNKY SPORK


Ingredients 16 ounces of fresh strawberries 1 large clove of garlic 1 juice of one lime 1/3 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped Four green onions, coarsely chopped A pinch of salt (1/4 tsp)


PREP TIME: 2 MINUTES COOK TIME: 3 HOURS TOTAL TIME: 3 HOURS 2 MINUTES SERVINGS: 50 MEATBALLS INGREDIENTS 32 ounce bag Meatballs, frozen (about 50 meatballs) 12 ounces Strawberry Jam 6 ounces Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

Directions: Coarsely chop the strawberries until they are roughly diced to about ½ inch-sized cubes. Set aside In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse about ten times with five seconds for each pulse. This will take about a minute or so. You will have a slightly chunky salsa consistency, Serve up with some tortilla chips, and enjoy!

Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F. Slice baguette into four pieces and then slice each in half, lengthwise. Place the baguette open-faced on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Dust with cracked ground pepper. and toast the in the oven until golden brown. While baguette is toasting toss strawberries, basil and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. When bread is toasted golden brown, remove from oven and spread goat cheese across each slice. Top goat cheese with prepared strawberries and serve. Makes eight servings. AUTHOR: ALEX — GFWC PLANT CITY JUNIOR WOMAN’S CLUB


4 servings Nutrition information (per serving for salsa, only) 45g calories/ 1g protein/0.44g fat/11g carbs/ 2.7g fiber

Ingredients 1 bottle of Keel & Curley Strawberry Riesling, frozen in an ice cube tray or plastic zip bag overnight (it will remain a little slushy) 2 cups of frozen Plant City strawberries 8 oz Publix Strawberry Sparkling Water 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice 2-3 tablespoons simple syrup AUTHOR: SUE HARRELL- STRAWBERRY SUE RECIPES

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE ICED LATTE Ingredients 4 fresh Florida strawberries 2 tbsp sugar Ice 3/4 cup of milk 2 shots of espresso

Directions: Begin by rinsing and hulling your fresh Florida strawberries then dice into small pieces. Toss the strawberries in sugar and let them macerate for 5-10 minutes or longer. You’ll know they are ready when you have a syrupy sauce and all the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries, syrup and all, into a medium sized cup. Fill with ice and then top with milk leaving room for the espresso shots. If you want a richer treat feel free to substitute some of the milk for half & half or cream! Finally, top the drink off with two shots of fresh espresso, give it a stir and enjoy! Now revel not only in the delicious iced treat you just made but also in all the money you’ve saved!

Directions: Blend the strawberries, frozen wine, sparkling water and lime juice until smooth. Mix in the simple syrup to taste. Enjoy in your favorite mason jar!



Ingredients 1/2 cup extra virgin coconut oil 1 1/2 cups strawberries 1/4 cup honey Directions: Melt the coconut oil and add to a food processor or blender, along with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a small jar and store in the fridge. This mixture is wonderful on toast, biscuits and scones, and also makes a delightful filling for cookies and cakes.

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BATTLE OF THE BANDS The Florida Strawberry Festival is kicking off a music tournament for talent to attempt to walk away with thousands of dollars and time in a professional recording studio.



ach year the Florida Strawberry Festival brings new and innovative ideas to its 11-day event, however, few changes have created the buzz the upcoming Battle of the Bands is stirring up among attendees. The four-day event will feature three preliminary battles and a grand finale where the top ranked bands will be on the Wish Farms Soundstage showing off their skills to an expert panel of judges as well as any and all who attend the concert. “We’ve got Christian bands, rock bands, R&B, country, urban funk sounding groups, there’s so many diverse acts,” Jennifer Morgan, public relations and media representative for the Florida Strawberry Festival, said. “I’ve loved being able to be a part of this committee, to help build something like this into existence. We’re able to give local bands the opportunity to show off their talents and possibly walk away with an amazing prize.” The winner of the inaugural Battle of the Bands will receive $10,000, a trophy and 25 hours of studio recording time with All Access Recording. Second place receives $5,000, a trophy and 10 hours of studio time and the honorable mention will receive $1,000 and an award for recognition. Pair the enticing prizes with the one of a kind networking opportunities and suddenly groups all across central Florida are blowing up social media in an effort to score a top nine spot for the contest. The committee — which is comprised of approximately 10 members that share a background in entertainment or another useful skill set for the creation of the contest — narrowed the submissions down to the top 20 based off of a pre-determined criteria. From there they opened final voting up to the public to decide who would make the preliminary battles at the festival. “Everything is a work in progress and since this was our first year that was kind of a barrier that we now will overcome,” Morgan said. “We want to be transparent to both our bands and our audience so we decided Facebook would be a good way to monitor who is voting and to make sure there aren’t any bots that could affect scores. Of course we learned that not everyone is tech-savvy so next year we’re still going to have public votes, but it will probably be a little different.” The festival loves feedback and Morgan said they’ve received a lot throughout this process from both the bands they were working with and the general public who are getting involved in the process. Some didn’t have a social media presence and struggled to create a Facebook and then get invited into the event’s Facebook group. All in all though the feedback has been positive as people express their excitement over having such a unique event. The public voting also helped show the festival what type of music local residents enjoy. While Morgan said they would have loved to see every genre represented in the contest it was interesting to see who the public decided was making the final cut. The top nine bands are Almost There, Angie Rey and The Countrydelics, Bound No More, DBMK, G.W. Souther, Kayla

Ember, Kingsway, OakLee and Reach City Worship. Now they will face off over the course of three days. On Thursday, Feb. 28, DBMK, OakLee and Reach City Worship will perform in the Publix Showcase Tent. On Tuesday, March 5 Kingsway, G.W. Souther and Angie Ray and the Countrydelics will perform. The last preliminary battle will feature Almost There, Bound No More and Kayla Ember on Thursday, March 7. The first band comes up at 6 p.m. and the last one takes the stage at 8 p.m. As long as you are in the tent during at least one of the performances you will be able to cast your vote for the winner that night. The festival will have volunteers there to monitor the votes and the totals will be tallied that night for the three that just performed. The goal is to be able to announce the three bands with the highest votes on March 7. The final event is at the Wish Farms Soundstage on March 9 at 3:30 p.m. Three guest judges will watch the final performance and will split the vote 50/50 with everyone who attends the free show. Online many of the bands have already begun rallying the troops as they seek attendees to join them for their shows. “We’re really honored to offer this type of experience,” Morgan said. “What a great way to have a local band share their talents with a huge group of people. They may not ever get an opportunity to do something like this. You never know who’s in the audience or who’s watching and just to be able to share the stage with some of these great artists is awesome.” Morgan said the committee hopes the massive undertaking goes off without a hitch and is already planning on revamping the contest for next year. At the end of the day she said this could lead to a lifelong partnership between many of the talented groups and the Florida Strawberry Festival. “We’re just excited to see this come together,” Morgan said. “Have a good time, that’s really what it’s all about. It makes it that much more enjoyable to know that you’re giving a prize like that to a group that’s here, that’s really trying to make it. It’s been an honor to head up the committee and I have to say that the gentlemen that are on the committee with me have been working tirelessly. Their hearts are in it and we all really want this to ‘be a hit’ for lack of a better word.”

“Shorty Cakes was once in a band. I had been trampled by a hungry festival goer. Oh wait, no that was a bandage.”


6 p.m. DBMK: DBMK is the explosive alt-pop outfit from Tampa, Florida cutting through the scene as one of 2018’s most promising groups with singles “Heartscam” and “I Think I’m Bored.” The Tampa quartet has created its alt pop blend of music together since 2015.

7 p.m. OakLee: OakLee was originally formed in 2017 by Ian Davis and Jonathan Liptak. They continue to quickly expand with their music, playing anything from old classic Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to Jason Aldean and Eric Church, and often throw a taste of Rock ‘N’ Roll with anything from Tom Petty to Pearl Jam.

7 p.m. G. W. Souther: G.W. Souther is a four piece Orlando-based band specializing in Pop/Soul/Rock music that weaves you in and out of the inspirations from Ol Skool to the New. It’s a quartet that features members originally from Alabama and Florida.

8 p.m. Angie Rey and the Countrydelics: Angie has opened for various country stars like Scotty McCreery, Chase Bryant, Jerrod Niemann and John Michael Montgomery. She has set her sights and her voice on taking the country music world by storm.


8 p.m. Reach City Worship: Reach City Worship is a movement out of Tampa, Florida. Equipping and providing a voice for the local and global body of Christ, their music captures the heart and sound of their home church.

6 p.m. Almost There: Almost There is a group of guys that just appreciate music and the art of performing it. They cover everything from the Beatles and Led Zeppelin to today’s top 40 with their own twists.


6 p.m. Kingsway: Kingsway is a contemporary Christian band from Brandon. They are just getting started but are excited to share their music with you.

7 p.m. Bound No More: A Southern, Christian Rock band housed out of Free Rider Fellowship in Plant City. Their passion is to glorify God with the musical abilities He’s given them by creating wildly good music and to have fun doing it. 8 p.m. Kayla Ember: Kayla Ember is a 19-year-old artist/singer/songwriter that performs everything from pop and R&B to jazz.





Then ...


he Florida Strawberry Festival has come a long way in 84 years, morphing from a classic small-town festival into an 11-day affair with more than 500,000 annual attendees from all over the world.

Plant City’s pride and joy is always looking ahead to the future but it will never forget its past, either. You can visit the Neighborhood Village on the festival grounds or head downtown to the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center to learn much more about the history of the Florida Strawberry Festival but, for now, we’ve put together some of our favorite photos from the past (courtesy of the Photo Archives) next to some of our favorites taken by the staff at the 2018 festival.

& Now ...



“REDCOAT” What’s the first thing someone should do when they go to the festival?

“Head on over to the Amish doughnuts. Visit a little, then without a doubt get one of our famous strawberry shortcakes. As you can see, I am a little onedimensional. Oh, by the way, have some Fiske fries before you leave.” —Paul Davis

“The first thing someone should do when they visit the festival is find the closest information booth. The volunteers manning those booths can give you a map so you know where you are and will mark what gate you came in. They will explain what is happening at the festival that day. You can plan your day between the different entertainment offerings in the tents as well as the main stage.” — Dub McGinnes

“Remember what gate you came in so you don’t get lost, then head straight to serious caloric intake.”

“Sample one or more of the many strawberry treats available.” — Dan Walden

— Rhett Rollyson




LET THERE BE CAKE Plant City Photo Archives and History Center

Plant City’s record-breaking strawberry shortcake took less than an hour to complete.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of Plant City’s record-setting attempt to make the world’s largest strawberry shortcake. JUSTIN KLINE SPORTS/ASSOCIATE EDITOR


lant City had long been known as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World before Feb. 14, 1999. But on that Sunday afternoon, Plant City also became the strawberry shortcake capital of the world. McCall Park was the venue for the city’s successful attempt to put together the world’s largest strawberry shortcake, which measured 827.44 square feet in length and weighed a whopping 8,150 pounds. Plant City snatched the Guinness World Record from Quebec, Canada that day. “(I) saw the record and I just thought that it really belonged to Plant City,” interim Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce president Shannon Riley said in 1999. “Luckily, all these wonderful people that are helping do this today agreed.” In 1998, the record was held by the city of Watsonville, California for a 175foot by four-foot shortcake made at the city’s Strawberry Dessert Festival. That one consisted of 260 sheet cakes, 2,400 pounds of berries and 600 pounds of nondairy whipped topping. That was the shortcake that initially spurred Riley, Gil Gott and Plant City into action. Thirteen months after Watsonville’s record was set, while Plant City was still planning its own shortcake takeover, a new record was set in Quebec. It wouldn’t last very long.

Twenty-five growers donated freshly picked strawberries for the cause on that Thursday. More than 150 volunteers at St. Clement Catholic Church, one of Plant City’s signature shortcake creators, prepared the berries by de-stemming them, processing them and adding in sugar on that Friday. The contents were kept refrigerated until they were ready to be delivered to McCall Park on that Sunday for the official attempt. The stage was set up that Valentine’s Day morning. Streets were blocked off and cameramen flocked to the park as Plant Citians, with a little help from Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend Lee Roy Selmon, prepared to make history at 4 p.m. “This is a great occasion for me, to be part of this world record-setting event,” Selmon said that day. It only took 35 minutes of laying down the cakes and spreading on the toppings. A new record was born and an entire town was fed for $1 per person. The best part, according to those who were there, was that the strawberry shortcake was more than just edible. “It was good, oh yeah,” Kenny Peace said. Plant City no longer owns the world record for the largest strawberry shortcake and it’s unclear whether the city will attempt to reclaim the record in the future. No matter what happens, though, no city or town can take Plant City’s claim of having the world’s best-tasting strawberry shortcake.

Plant City Photo Archives and History Center

The entire community came together to help and watch history be made.







$15 OFF YOUR NEXT PURCHASE OF $25 OR MORE VALID THROUGH MARCH 31, 2019 Offer valid only at NAPA Plant City. Retail customers only. Limit 1 coupon per customer, per transaction, per day. Coupon can not be redeemed for cash. Must present coupon at time of purchase. Not good in conjunction with other coupons or sale-priced offers. No minimum purchase necessary. Offer valid through March 31, 2019. For store use only: 15OFF



Hitchcock Street

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304 E. Alsobrook St. Plant City, FL 33563 813-752-3193 304 East Alsobrook Street

E Alsobrook Street

W Alsobrook Street

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Mon-Fri: 7:30 AM-6:00 PM Sat: 8:00 AM-5:00 PM Sun: 8:00 AM-4:00 PM











LEGO Strawberry: Build set is $10 All Minifigs: $5 and up Sets: Range from $10 to $50

hen you come to Plant City for the Florida Strawberry Festival you’ll want to pick up some local exclusives to jazz up your trip. Whether it’s a strawbery themed t-shirt or one-of-akind wine glasses our local businesses have everything you’ll need to have a ‘berry’ exciting holiday. The Plant City Observer staff went on the hunt around town and dug up some of these Plant City gems for you to check out while you’re in town.

FRINGE Bourbon and Boweties 2019 Festival Collection. Prices range $16 to $34 T-shirt: $28 Nora Fleming Entertainment Pieces: Range $28-$142 Hand painted Wine glass: $21 Strawberry Tervis $13.99 Hats: various styles available. Two featured are $27.99. Yeti cooler: $199 Powder coated Yeti cup: $59.99

PARKESDALE Syrup: $2.99 Preserves: $3.99 Strawberry cookies: $4.99 Seedless berry butter: $5.79 Dressing: $4.99


14K Yellow & White Gold Green & White Diamonds

YOUR FAMILY JEWELER Featured set: $1,500 on pendant and $475 on earrings; Diamond set in 14k gold Set 2: $60 for set sterling silver with Swarovski crystals Silver strawberry pieces: Price range from $20 to $75 in Sterling silver Charms: variety of 14k gold strawberry pendants, price range $50 to $270 Strawberry Pandora to fit charms: $20

Swarovski Crystal 14K White Gold Earrings

14K White Gold Diamond 1.25 C ETW

14K Yellow Gold Earrings RAOK: T-shirt: $30 Muscle Tank: $32 Clutch: $25

SOUTHSIDE FEED STORE: 20oz tumbler: $39.99 Rain boots: $39.99 and $48.99

14K Yellow Gold Diamond 1.25 C ETW


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2019 Florida Strawberry Festival Guide  

2019 Florida Strawberry Festival Guide

2019 Florida Strawberry Festival Guide  

2019 Florida Strawberry Festival Guide