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All this, and strawberries, too

Strawberries

By AMY ABBOTT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001


Royalty on parade, country music, animals, contests - entertainment of all kinds helps Plant City pay homage to its favorite fruit.

Ancient Romans, Greeks and Syrians celebrated the olive. The people of Plant City revel in the strawberry during their yearly Strawberry Festival, which runs March 1 through March 11.

Plant City, known as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, has been home to the festival since it was begun in 1930 by the town's Lion's Club. Folks wanted to celebrate the harvest of the strawberry, and the contribution it made to Plant City's economics. A six-year hiatus caused by World War II has been the only interruption in the celebration.

This year, the fair has been named one of the Top 20 Events for March by the non-profit Southeast Tourism Society. The theme this year is "Celebrate the Times from Past to Present." A log cabin built in 1858 and filled with artifacts will be open to the public; visitors can watch the rare arts of spinning, tatting (a form of handmade lace) and chair caning.

There also are rides, rides, rides. And, of course, strawberries never go out of style.

The fair has grown to include a vast array of musical talent, crafts and animals. With so much to see and do, which events should be a must?

This list gives you an idea of some of the crowd pleasers that keep folks coming back year after year and a few of the new attractions sure to get attention.

AGRICULTURE

Eat it up with a spoon
If it's March in Plant City, then it's Strawberry Festival time. Bring on the shortcake, music, midway and pig races.

Who's playing the festival
If you can't get your country music groove on at the Strawberry Fest, then you've got no groove to get on, darlin'. It's as plain as that.

Strawberry Festival event calendar
The Strawberry Festival remains true to its agricultural roots. Featured events include cook-offs, a dairy show, animal exhibits, milking contests and more.

Lamb Costume Contest/Dairy Costume Ball

If your lamb can't jump or your heifer's markings aren't up to par, you can do what most people do to cover their flaws: dress them up. Fashion-savvy lamb and cow owners are required to dress themselves and their animal in a costume to be judged on their fashion sense. Some of the awards will go to most original, most colorful, funniest and prettiest, with cash awards up to $25. Lambs take the runway at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Lamb Tent, and cows mosey to the ball at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Livestock Tent.

Robinson's Racing Pigs

You're not going to get rich at this race. Paul Robinson's Racing Pigs made their debut at the Florida State Fair in 1985 and were winners with the crowd. Pigs compete in hourly races between noon and 6 p.m. everyday in the Livestock Area. Their incentive to be the best pigs they can be? Oreos. Pigs have a sweet tooth.

Mechanical cow

You can't squeeze water from a stone but you can get milk from a mechanical cow, the newest attraction at the Carriage House arts and crafts area. People of all ages can take a shot at milking a cow without having to watch where they walk. Every day between 10 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.

SHOWS

Chinese Acrobats

Like clowns in a small car, these performers fit as many acrobats as they can onto a bicycle. But that's not the only thing that has continued to amaze audiences for years at the festival. The performers combine acrobatics, comedy, balancing feats and more at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in the Bill Heard Chevrolet Showcase Tent.

Kenya Wizard Acrobats

In keeping with the exotic theme you rarely find at hometown fairs, this troupe of seven bouncing, bopping and balancing men dance and tumble about to a Benga beat. Much like the Chinese acrobats, they combine Asian methods of mind/body harmony with East African musical tradition. Complete with balls of fire.

ARTS

Florida Strawberry Festival Art Show

If you like your artwork with a little local flair, you could find the perfect piece for your decor at this show. Professional and amateur local artists' work will be on display as well as artwork from area children. All pieces are for sale but must remain on display in the Art Show building until after the fair.

Photography Contest

At this display, a photograph is worth a thousand words and $75. Contestants' pictures will be on display and judged on visual impact, composition, quality and appeal in the Main Exhibit Building. Residents from Hillsborough, Polk and Pasco counties, as well as their seasonal residents, can enter.

MUSIC

George Jones, tonight; Randy Travis, Sunday; Loretta Lynn, March 8. Oak Ridge Boys, March 9, Alabama, March 11;

Take away the pyrotechnics, the laser shows and back-up singers, and you have what country was born to be: banjos, six-strings and astounding vocal feats. These acts are a few of the many country music staples at the festival. Most are already sold out or close to it. Other down-home country performers are Roy Clark, Lee Greenwood, Neal McCoy, Charley Pride, Ricky Van Shelton and Aaron Tippin. All shows are $5 and $10 for reserved seats or free, first come, first-served seats.

Stephanie Ann

In the world of country music, the violin is a fiddle, a guitar solo is a hot lick but talent is talent. Stephanie Ann is new to the scene, but her roots are grounded in tradition. This Brandon fiddle player writes her own music and lyrics; they can be heard on her new CD, A Little Fiddle Action. She will also perform at 11, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily in the Bill Heard Chevrolet Strawberry Tent.

Runa Pacha

Country fairs reflect the area that surrounds them, but this one goes beyond its boundaries with this group from the Andes Mountains. These Incan musicians play pan pipes, charango, guitar, flutes and drums at 10:30 a.m., noon, 2, 4, 6 and 8 p.m. daily near the fair office.

KIDS

Buck Trout Puppet Show

You can go to the show or the show will come to you. Featuring life-size puppets down to the smallest, shows are at noon, 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily on stage east of the fair office and in the roving truck at 10:30 a.m., 1:30, 5 and 8 p.m.

Phillips Exotic Petting Zoo

Just how old can a tortoise get? Well, older than the 152-year-old tortoise on display for kids to see, pet and learn about. Also, a giraffe, kangaroo, buffalo, zebra, deer, llama, camel, aoudad (a large wild sheep originally from North Africa), nilgai (a kind of antelope) and an emu will be on display just north of the festival office.

Barnyard Petting Zoo

Kids can learn what it's like to feed, handle and care for farm animals. All the fuzzy, jumpy, noisy animals will be in their pens just north of the Carriage House.

PARADES

Grand Feature Parade

So it's not Charles' and Di's wedding procession, but you will see royalty. That would be the Strawberry Festival Queen and her court, area dignitaries, floats, antique cars, dancers and marching bands. All led by Grand Marshal -- and country legend -- Charley Pride. The procession will start at Prosser and Evers streets at 1 p.m. Monday -- Amy Abbott can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or by e-mail at abbott@sptimes.com.

AT A GLANCE

Strawberries WHAT: Strawberry Festival

WHERE: Plant City Fair Grounds

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. today through March 11; midway open till midnight; Moonlight Magic from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays.

COST: Adults: $7 at gate; $6 in advance, children 10 and under free with a paying adult. Parking $3.

CALL: (813) 752-9194

WEB SITE: http://www.flstrawberryfestival.com/

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