By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Coming off a record year, the Florida Strawberry Festival is back in business with a 2020 lineup that includes new food selections, stellar entertainment, fresh-from-the-field strawberries and local talent, including the Riverview High School Unleashed dance group, set to perform closing day.
With this year’s “Our Perfect Vision” theme, the 11-day fair runs through March 8 and features lots of ways to eat and celebrate strawberries, including the Deep-Fried Strawberry Pie on a Stick Relay (Feb. 27), new this year. Also, the youth and adult strawberry stemming contests (Feb. 29 and March 3, respectively), Strawberry Grand Parade (March 2), Strawberry Spaghetti Eating Contest (March 2), Strawberry Mashed Potato Pie Eating Contest (March 6), Strawberry Express Cloggers (March 8) and Strawberry Shortcake Eating Contest (March 5), sponsored by St. Clement Catholic Church.
Church volunteers for years have run St. Clement’s “Make-Your-Own Shortcake” booth, an annual festival favorite. They were on hand as well at the Feb. 22 media preview party in the Grimes Family Agricultural Center at the Florida Strawberry Festival Grounds, where attendees scooped whipped cream and syrup-soaked strawberries from super-sized bowls.
On hand also was Florida Strawberry Festival Queen Meghan White, the daughter of Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, whose Riverview-area district runs from Lakeland through Wimauma. She was crowned Jan. 19, along with Kennedy Sapp, first maid, and court members Denim Hughes, Lacie Collins and Emma Miller.
According to CarnivalWarehouse.com, the Florida Strawberry Festival last year ranked 33rd on its list of Top 50 fairs, with record-year attendance registered at 562,327, a 14.1 percent increase from the year before. In contrast, the Florida State Fair ranked 37th, with attendance at 483,591. Two more Florida fairs made the list: the Miami-Dade County Fair and Expo (34th spot, 552,404 attendance) and the South Florida Fair – West Palm Beach (48th spot, 359,020 attendance).
New food items at this year’s Florida Strawberry Festival include Strawberry Cheesecake Elephant Ear, Strawberry Cream Cheese Delight Calzone and Piggy Palace’s Strawberry Piggy Shortcake, featuring sweet cornbread, pulled pork “and a drizzle of homemade strawberry barbecue sauce.” Also new: Apple Fries, Chocolate Covered Bacon Kabob, Chocolate Strawberry Elephant Ear, Cookie Barn’s Strawberry Cookie Dough with White Chocolate Chips, Deep-Fried Ravioli Kabob, Deep-Fried Tacos, French Onion Grilled Cheese and Carousel’s two new hamburger dishes: a patty nestled between two deep-fried Ramen Noodle buns and a “waffle bun piled high with fresh Plant City strawberries and sweet maple syrup.”
Headliner entertainment this year includes Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Oak Ridge Boys, Patti LaBelle, Reba McEntire, Josh Turner and Charlie Wilson.
New this year in the free entertainment lineup are the Belmont Magic Show, Flippenout trampoline artists and K9s in Flight (featuring Frisbee dogs). Vocal Trash uses homemade items to make music, and the New York Yankees Kiddie Korral features the Kid’s Coloring Corner and Peachey’s Youth Pretzel-Making Clinic.
Stingray Chevrolet is set to raffle off a 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Mid-Engine C8 2LT, valued at $67,292 and featuring a “490 HP LT2 V8 engine and an eight-speed dual clutch transmission with a Heads-Up display.” The drawing is set for 5 p.m. March 8. Tickets cost $5 apiece and are available at Stingray Chevrolet in Plant City (until 6 p.m. March 6), online at www.stingraychevroletraffle.com (until 3 p.m. March 6), and at the dealership’s vehicle display on festival grounds (until 4:30 p.m. March 8). Proceeds benefit Unity in the Community in Plant City.
Discounted festival admission tickets are available at Publix super markets ($8 for adults; $4 for children ages 6 to 12). Children under age 5 are admitted free with a paying adult. Also, Publix Food and Fun Day is Feb. 28. Exchange two Publix-branded GreenWise non-perishables for a $5 voucher off the $30 wristband to ride most mechanical rides for $25.
Additional Special Days, with their own special discounts, include Senior Citizens Day (Feb. 27 and March 5), Free Kids Day (Feb. 29), Coca-Cola Family Day (March 1 and March 8), Breyers Home School Twosday (March 2), American Heroes Day (March 4), Tampa Bay Times Day on the Midway (March 6) and Farm Worker Appreciation Day (March 7). Moonlight Magic Night is March 6; from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., ride most mechanical rides for $25 per person.
Grand Parade Day is March 2, with the parade set to start 1 p.m. at Evers and Renfro streets, heading north through downtown Plant City and then west toward the festival grounds on Reynolds Street.
For admission costs, special days, contests, shows, entertainment, food and more, visit www.flstrawberryfestival.com. The festival is at 2209 West Oak Ave., Plant City.