by KRISTEN GUEVARA
It’s a berry exciting time of year! The 88th Florida Strawberry Festival is taking place in Plant City from March 2-12. An estimated 550,000 people gather yearly to celebrate and enjoy Florida’s fresh strawberries and strawberry shortcakes, as well as headline entertainment, youth livestock shows, and exhibits.
The area’s strawberry industry got its start after a severe freeze in the late 1800s decimated most of the citrus and lumber being farmed in Central Florida. Farmers were in desperate need of a way to provide for their families and communities. That’s when strawberries made their big entrance. Strawberries are cold hardy and can survive mild winters, making them a great crop to harvest during cold winter months in Central Florida.
“A handful of farmers in the Plant City area decided to try their luck at harvesting strawberries,” says Jennifer Morgan, public relations and media representative for the festival.
Shortly after the first strawberry crop was harvested, the Plant City economy flourished, and by the 1900s, the strawberry industry in the Central Florida region was booming.
“Over the next few decades, strawberries became the heart and spirit of our community,” she says.
That success earned Plant City the name Winter Strawberry Capital of the world by the early 1920s. By 1930, the newly organized Plant City Lions Club decided to pay homage to the crop with an event to celebrate the bountiful berry harvest.
“In Plant City, the strawberry is king, and there’s no doubt about that!” she says.
There are a few new surprises in store for this year’s event, including the country’s largest mobile ferris wheel — an attraction affectionately called “The Berry Big Wheel.”
In addition, the Plant City Rotary Club will sponsor the new Special Smiles Day on Friday, March 3.
“We welcome all individuals with special needs and their families from 9 a.m. to noon to experience a unique VIP event,” Morgan says. “This special event is reserved for celebrating our most treasured guests in a safe, fun, and sensory considerate environment.”
Special Smiles attendees and one companion will be admitted free at entry Gate 5 on March 3.
Other new festival features this year include:
- Daily Nerveless Nocks Jetpack Flying Water Circus performances
- Updated grounds
- Additional restroom accommodations. (“You asked, we listened!” Morgan exclaims.)
- New food items
The Florida Strawberry Festival offers two locations to purchase strawberries and a production display that gives guests a firsthand look at the farming process and the evolution of the equipment used with a fully functional 1-acre lot to showcase how berries are harvested.
“We are grateful to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association and all of their hard work,” Morgan says. “We have come a long way.”