Wednesday, April 21, 2010

TOP STORY >> Strawberry festival begins on Thursday

Leader staff writer

Strawberry Fest starts Thursday evening in Cabot with carnival rides, food and strawberries from local produce growers.

Mountain High Produce, the Cabot Patch, Barnhill Orchards and Holland Bottom Farms started picking this week.

Laird High, who grew up in Cabot and took over the Cabot Patch from his dad five years ago, said the eight-year-old festival is a good thing. For area residents, it’s good family fun. For area growers, it’s good advertising.

“We reach a lot of people who don’t know about us,” High said.

Unfortunately, the growing seasons of California and Florida coincided this year, which drove the price of berries down to about half their normal cost.

Locally grown berries cost more, but growers say they are worth the difference in price because they simply taste better.

“The berries from California are shipped green,” High said. “When they aren’t ripened on the vine they lose the taste and sweetness. There’s no comparison between the Arkansas berry and the California berry.”

Many years ago, strawberries grown in central Arkansas were shipped north by rail. Now, they are found at stands near the fields where they are grown, on roadside stands across the state and in some area grocery stores.

Larry Odom, owner of Holland Bottom Farms, says local Cabot produce growers are less competitive than they are supportive.

Together they offer about all the fresh fruits and vegetables that can be grown in the area. And the discount-priced strawberries in grocery stores now should not have a negative impact on the season’s profits.

“It won’t affect us because we don’t grow California and Florida strawberries,” Odom said.

The festival will be held at Veterans Park Community Center. The carnival opens from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The attractions also include a beauty pageant, a 5K run sponsored by Cabot Country Cruisers, a car show sponsored by Arkansas Street Machines, live entertainment and a special children’s area.

The festival is sponsored by the Cabot Junior Auxiliary, which took the festival over last year from the parks department as a fundraiser for auxiliary programs to help children in Cabot schools.

The pageant has several divisions for girls and boys. Contestants may register up to starting time of the pageant at 9 a.m. Saturday in these age groups — girls ages 0-11 months, 12-23 months, 4-6 years, 7-9 years, 10-12 years, 13-15 years and 16-19 years; boys ages 0-18 months, 19 months-3 years and 4-5 years.

The Junior Auxiliary’s profit from the festival will fund several programs, including the Backpack Brigade, which provides a backpack and school supplies to students in need in the Cabot School District; Christmas Blessing, which provides toys and other gifts to needy children in the school district; Glass Slipper, which provides prom attire, and Serving Safe Haven, which supplies bags of toiletries and other necessities to children staying at the battered women’s shelter.

In addition to strawberries, local growers raise a variety of vegetables and fruits — Holland Bottom Farms, Hwy. 321, Mountain High Produce off Hwy. 5, Barnhill Orchards off Sandhill Road south of Cabot on Hwy. 89 and the Cabot Patch off Mt. Carmel Road.