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Festival hails the Ruskin tomato

By AMY ABBOTT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 3, 2002

When ketchup was bumped off the dinner table by the more popular salsa, the tomato was there. When the list of cancer-fighting foods was written, the tomato was there. When Ruskin was in the depths of the Depression, the tomato was there.

In 1934, Ruskin farmers looked to their back yards for a way to raise revenue in the struggling town. A festival was born.

Right away, the big-money ticket was the Queen Contest. Merchants bought votes and sold them to customers who then cast them at the fair.

Heated competition and corrupt vote-dumping eventually gave way to a more traditional process.

Saturday, the tradition continues.

And the competitive spirit endures, as teams lob tomatoes at each other at the day's Tomato Wars. The least smattered team gets the glory and $1,000 to donate to a charity of choice.

Besides hurling bulging red pulp bombs at each other, some people eat them at the Great Tomato Cook-Off held after the pageant.

Rural Ruskin has more than fertile fields and tasty tomatoes. There's a long history and a diverse ecology. An exhibit tells of the clash between Spanish conquistadors and Florida's Indians. An environmental display illustrates life in the flats, channels, wetlands and watersheds in the unplowed areas of Ruskin.

A fair wouldn't be a fair without live entertainment, a car show, petting zoos, arts and crafts and a farmers market. And of course, in this case, fried green tomatoes.


  • HOURS: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
  • LOCATION: E.G. Simmons Park, 2401 19th Ave. NW, Ruskin
  • INFORMATION: 645-7710.

3 -- TODAY

DAVID ALAN GRIER. Grier's standup consists of pulling tricks from a large mixed bag consisting of a Tony award nomination, years at Yale School of Drama, work on In Living Color and loads of screen work such as Jumanji. 8 p.m., 10:30 p.m. today-Sat.; 7 p.m., 9 p.m. Sun.; $20-$24; Improv, 1600 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City. Call 864-4000.

EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC. Henry Hsiao's electronic sounds are pumped up, Jim Beckwith's vocals and percussion get a funky beat and Willie Lawson's sax, flute and clarinet mash new melodies when audio mixologists MOD are in the house. 9 p.m.; $6; Orpheum, 1902 Avenida Republica de Cuba; Ybor City. Call 831-3189.

BUFFALO STRANGE WITH PURPLE VELVET RAIN. The effect of dancing to reggae with a socially conscious position is completed by canopy of trees sheltering the sand and plywood dance floor of the Skipperdome. 8 p.m.; $6; Skipper's Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road. Call 971-0666.

BAYFEST. If you're big on boy bands, this is the ticket: 38 Special, Sugar Ray, Hootie and the Blowfish, Hank Williams Jr., Big Sky, Ja Rule, Journey, The Knack and 70 other well-known and less-known bands make an appearance. Oh yeah, and Mindy McCready and Tiffany jump into the testosterone fest, er, Bayfest. 5 p.m. today, 11 a.m. Sat., 1 p.m. Sun.; $20-$35; Vinoy Park, Downtown St. Petersburg. Call (727) 898-2100.

SON OF O'DONNELLOGUES. Ever picked your grandfather over your grandmother to read you a story? Then you understand some people have the gift of storytelling and others are good at doling out the gumdrops. John O'Donnell is blessed with blarney as he rolls on about love, life and dancing. 8 p.m. today-Sat., 4 p.m. Sun.; $15.50; Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Shimberg Playhouse. Call 229-7892.

FREE CONCERT IN THE PARK. Florida Orchestra does community service by waiving the $20 fee and playing a free outdoor concert. Dance by the river to Brahms' Hungarian Dances and selections from The King and I. 7 p.m.; free; Curtis Hixon Park, 700 N Ashley St. Call 259-7376.

SCRAPBOOK EXPO AT EXPO HALL. It's not just glue anymore. Experts engineer scrapbooks that could stand up to the "Martha" test, or at least against other competitors' creations from the workshops they will be attending this weekend. Tips, tools and stencils. Noon-8 p.m. today (cropping party 6 p.m.-midnight); 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.; $7 per day, $10 two-day pass, $12-$20 per class, $15 Crop Night; Florida State Fairgrounds. For information call (909) 734-4307.

UT MUSIC DEPARTMENT PRESENTS. UT Wind Ensemble. 7:30 p.m.; free; University of Tampa, Falk Theater, 401 W Kennedy Blvd. Call 253-3333.

BASEBALL: BOSTON RED SOX AT TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS. 7:15 p.m.; $14-$125; Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 898-7297.

RETRO RED SQUARE RECALL. The second British pop invasion. Old wave. New wave. This band is all the things we loved the in the '80s sans Punky Brewster. DJ Noi drops in to spin a few. 10 p.m.; $5 adults (21 and up), $7 younger than 21; Orpheum, 1902 Avenida Republica de Cuba, Ybor City. Call 248-9500.


ART SHOW: VIRTUAL CONSTRUCTIONS. Digital prints from the real world are scanned, processed, layered and edited to create virtual worlds. Need clarification? Kenneth A. Huff will have a meet and greet May 18 at 2 p.m. Opening ceremony 7-10 p.m. Sat.; regular gallery hours until June 22; free; Brad Cooper Gallery, 1712 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City. Call 248-6098.

APOPTYGMA BERZERK. German industrial techno mated with Soft Cell-esque vocals and gave birth to Stephan Groth, aka Apoptygma Berzerk, in Norway. 7 p.m.; $20; The Masquerade, 1503 E Seventh Ave. Call 287-8844.

FLORIDA AQUARIUM'S 7TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION. Swim with the fishes at the aquarium. Well maybe it's a minipool and they're kids, not guppies, but what's the difference? Being the 50th person in the doors on Saturday could make the difference between getting free birthday cake and having to grab a Snickers out of the vending machine. People 12 and older can scuba for free. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; $7; Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive. Call 273-4000.

CHAMBER MUSIC CONCERT. Phoenix is a condensed ensemble of Florida Orchestra musicians with a passion for intimate settings. Spirited works by Haydn, Kodaly and Schubert fill the playbill with a playful, springlike feel. 3 p.m. Sat.; $10; Salvador Dali Museum, 1000 Third St. S, St. Petersburg; call (727) 823-3767; also 3 p.m. Sun.; free; Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, 3501 San Jose St.; call 253-6047.

POND AND WATER GARDEN TOUR. If the yoga mat and 6-inch fountain aren't getting you to a state of serendipity anymore, get ideas about how to make a bigger splash into a pool of tranquility with this pond and water garden tour from South Tampa to St. Petersburg. With a donation to the Humane Society and a map from Pondscapes, you'll be headed down the righteous path. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., until 4 p.m. Sun.; donation; Pondscapes, 4213 S Manhattan Ave.; call 839-8062.

PINELLAS COUNTY HORSEMAN'S SHOW. Hunting horses compete in two-day jump-a-thon. 8 a.m. today-Sun.; free; Florida State Fairgrounds, Bob Thomas Equestrian Center, Tampa. Call 393-5379.

JIM WEST'S AESOP'S FABLES. There's a reason cough syrup comes in grape flavor; otherwise, no one would take it. Same holds true for teaching morals to kids. Veteran puppeteer Jim West (Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood) breaks it down for the kiddies with lion, tortoise and hare, oh my! 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.; $8; Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. Call (727) 791-7400.

CANNIBAL CORPSE with Dark Funeral and other death metal bands. 7:30 p.m.; $15; State Theatre, 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Call (727) 895-3045.

BASEBALL: BOSTON RED SOX AT TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS. 6:15 p.m.; $14-$125; Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 898-7297.


BAND BASH FOR HANNAH'S BUDDIES. Local groovesters Rich Whiteley and Ghetto Love Sugar raise awareness and funds for research into spinal muscular atrophy, the leading genetic cause of death in infants. 4 p.m.; $5; Skipper's Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road. Call 971-0666.

TASTE OF SUN CITY CENTER. Variety, the spice of life. The Ambassadors of Sun City Center are running with the idea. Restaurants, residents and catering companies will delight the attendees. Door prizes and awards will be given out and entertainment will supply ambiance. 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; $5 for 10 tickets to food booths; Sun City Center Chamber Banquet Room. Call 634-5111, ext. 101.

BASEBALL: LAKELAND TIGERS AT TAMPA YANKEES. 1 p.m., $3-$5. Legends Field, 3802 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. Call 287-8844.

BASEBALL: BOSTON RED SOX AT TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS. 1:15 p.m.; $14-$125; Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 898-7297.


BOOK DISCUSSION. Discuss Harlan Coban's thriller Tell No One. 7:30 p.m.; free; Barnes & Noble, 122 Brandon Town Center, Brandon. Call 661-7011.

BASEBALL: BOSTON RED SOX AT TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS. 7:15 p.m.; $14-$125; Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 898-7297.


TIFFANY DESIGNER. Elsa Peretti has been getting inspiration from the natural world around her since 1974. Tiffany & Co. has been selling her wares ever since. You can see many of her pieces at the International Plaza store through May 27. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.; free; International Plaza. Call 351-8800.

BOOK SIGNING. Tampa plot-twister Tim Dorsey reads excerpts from and signs his newest edition, Triggerfish Twist. 7 p.m.; free; Inkwood Books, 216 S Armenia Ave. Call 253-2638.

PAUL GEREMIA. Being one of the best finger-pickers on acoustic guitar isn't easy when you play country blues and wax humor at the same time. After 30 years of practice, picking a six- or 12-sting is second nature. 8 p.m.; $10; Skipper's Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road. Call 971-0666.

BASEBALL: NEW YORK YANKEES AT TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS. 7:15 p.m.; $14-$125; Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 898-7297.

BASEBALL: DUNEDIN BLUE JAYS AT TAMPA YANKEES. 7 p.m.; $3-$5; Legends Field, 3802 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. Call 287-8844.


DENNY MORE. Personalities can be infectious. More's comedy is hypnotic. Literally. Select audience members are brought onstage to be hypnotized. Saturday night's midnight show is the Erotic Hypnotic version. 8 p.m. Wed.-Thur.; 8 p.m., 10:30 p.m. Fri.; 8 p.m., 10 p.m., 11:59 p.m. Sat.; 7 p.m. Sun.; $8-$14; Improv, 1600 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City. Call 864-4000.

BASEBALL: NEW YORK YANKEES AT TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS. 7:15 p.m.; $14-$125; Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 898-7297.


BOOK SIGNING. Ad Hudler's debut Househusband follows a celebrity landscaper from L.A. through unemployment and relocation to the East Coast. Hudler will be on hand for autographs. 7 p.m.; free; Inkwood Books, 216 S Armenia Ave. Call 253-2638.

BASEBALL: NEW YORK YANKEES AT TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS. 7:15 p.m.; $14-$125; Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 898-7297.


  • Nine Months: May 10, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
  • Slayer: May 12, Masquerade.
  • Tampa Bay Children's Chorus Spring Concert: May 12, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.


  • Pop Disaster Tour: Blink 182 and Green Day: May 14, Ice Palace.
  • Baryshnikov: May 14, Ruth Eckerd Hall.
  • Paul McCartney: May 15, Ice Palace.
  • Jethro Tull: May 16, Ruth Eckerd Hall.
  • Fury: May 17, Ice Palace.
  • Florida Orchestra: 3 Gold Medal Pianists: May 17, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
  • Tropical Heatwave: May 18, Ybor City.
  • Diana Krall: May 18, Ruth Eckerd Hall.
  • La Verbena de la Paloma: May 18, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
  • Antique Evaluation Saturday: May 18, University of Tampa.
  • Bonnie Raitt: May 22, Ruth Eckerd Hall.
  • Side Man: May 23, Gorilla Theatre.
  • The Vagina Monologues: May 28, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
  • Chicago: May 31, Ruth Eckerd Hall.
  • The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron: Aug. 20, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

- Want to send out an RSVP to the Tampa area? Fax press releases at least 10 days before publication to Amy Abbott at (813) 226-3381, or mail to 1000 N Ashley Drive, Suite 700, Tampa, FL 33602. Amy's phone number is (813) 226-3374, and her e-mail is

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