By LOIS KINDLE
One of the South Shore community’s favorite pastimes is returning May 6 after more than a five-year hiatus. Filled with exhibits and activities that celebrate the area’s agricultural roots, the Ruskin Tomato & Heritage Festival will take place at E.G. Simmons Park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The event is being sponsored by the Ruskin Community Development Foundation, which is currently seeking food, arts and craft vendors, sponsors and volunteers.
“We held our last festival on Dec. 3, 2011, to accommodate snowbirds who wanted to attend, but it wasn’t as successful as those we had always sponsored the first weekend in May,” said Sandy Council, RCDF president.
Many of the folks who helped organize it over the years could no longer do so, she said. But now there is a committed group of volunteers willing to help.
“We were continually being asked when the festival was coming back,” Council said. “So we’ve moved it back to May to ensure we have a crop of tomatoes and we’re moving forward.”
The Ruskin Tomato & Heritage Festival is like an old county fair. It has a local, homespun atmosphere, which takes visitors back to a simpler, less complicated time.
“I like that it’s part of old Ruskin,” said Tracy Cannon, owner of South Shore Signs. “It has an old-time, family charm, which always brought everyone in the area together.”
Cannon said she’s excited to hear the festival’s coming back.
“Heck, yeah,” she said, when asked if she’d be going. “I’m already looking into being a vendor.”
Planning for this year’s event is currently underway. Thus far, there will be an arts and crafts fair; tomato-dish and tomato-eating contests; free tomato slices; food vendors; live music; a kids’ zone; and a Tomato Queen competition.
If you would like to participate in the arts and crafts fair, e-mail Jennifer McCafferty at email@example.com. The cost is $80 for a 10-foot by 10-foot space. Vendors selling handmade items will be given priority.
Complete rules and information for Ma’s Tomato Dish Contest, Pa’s Tomato-eating Contest or the Tomato Queen Competition will be posted on the Ruskin Tomato & Heritage Festival Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/ruskintomatofestival and www.jens-market.com by the end of February.
Anyone interested in entering the Tomato Queen Competition should e-mail Selena Sandoval at firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be four different age groups, with a sponsorship fee of $250 per person. Sponsors could include a local business or restaurant, church group or club name in honor of youngsters, parents or grandparents. Prizes, which have yet to be determined, will be awarded.
Photos and information for each entrant will be posted on the festival Facebook page, where voting will take place.
Food vendors need to e-mail Council at email@example.com.
Volunteers will be needed to help hand out tomato slices, sell boxes of tomatoes and “tomato bucks” (to be used as cash for food purchases), gate handlers, grounds crew and more. To help, e-mail volunteer coordinator Juan Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organizations, large-acreage and backyard farmers or cottage industry businesses interested in setting up an agricultural display should e-mail Dalila Garcia at email@example.com.
The Kids’ Fun Zone will feature a variety of old-fashioned, hands-on activities like tomato-art painting, a water balloon toss, corn husking contest, and a hula hoop contest. High school students are welcome to earn community service hours and other volunteers are needed. Coordinator Heather Barr is currently looking for a children’s DJ. For information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barr has come up with a clever way to promote tomatoes and educate children about them with a promotion called Alfred the Roma“ing” Tomato. Seventeen rocks painted like tomatoes will be hidden at local businesses over the next few weeks. Anyone who finds one can save it as a keepsake, re-hide it or redeem it at the festival gate for free admission. In the case of a child, it can be redeemed for a gift at the Kids’ Fun Zone.
Each time a rock is hidden, some South Shore history on farming tomatoes will be posted a few days later. Follow Alfred at www.facebook.com/Alfredtheroamingtomato/.
Corporate sponsorships are available. For information, e-mail email@example.com.
“We have so many people on the committee with lots of energy who want to help make this Ruskin Tomato & Heritage Festival a big success,” Council said. “We’re so excited to bring it back to the community. So many people want to get back to their roots and a simpler time.”
That is what the festival represents, she said.