The annual Strawberry Festival at Unicoi Elementary School was a busy place Saturday despite rain. Above, Becky Scott Cable sells buckets of strawberries from Scott Farms.
The town of Unicoi’s annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival was held just as Scott Strawberry Farm berries were ripening up this year.
“We’re really just now getting started,” said Becky Scott Cable, who was selling buckets of some of the season’s first strawberries at the Scott Strawberry booth.
Cable said the Scott family is honored to see the festival named in remembrance of Wayne Scott.
“Our dad would have said this wouldn’t have been necessary,” she said. “He was a very humble and hard-working man. He loved the farm and he loved the strawberries.”
Cable said the event embraces agriculture, education and community involvement, which also describes her father’s passions.
“Our dad was a vocational agriculture teacher and he expanded the farm out of his teaching,” Cable said.
Upcoming Unicoi County Habitat for Humanity President Betsy Pitcock said she is thankful to have a platform to educate festivalgoers about her organization.
“We had the opportunity to come and create public awareness about what we are trying to do here in Unicoi County,” Pitcock said. “We’re in the middle of a home build right now. This will also allow people to sign up to be volunteers.”
Voluntarily dressed in a strawberry costume for the majority of the festival, town of Unicoi Parks and Recreation Director Travis Barbee said it was made especially for the festival by a local seamstress.
“One of the local volunteers made this outfit for the Strawberry Festival — Lesia Willis,” Barbee said. “It would just be a shame for somebody not to wear this around the Strawberry Festival.”
The strawberry costume is one example of community involvement when creating the festival atmosphere.
People are usually also invited to decorate floats, march and ride along in the traditional 9 a.m. parade, but it was canceled this year because of rain.
Barbee said the crowd was dedicated enough to still go on over to the festival, which was held at the Unicoi Elementary field.
“I think the parade would have lost a lot of its luster,” Barbee said about the impact of the rain. “You can’t fight Mother Nature, and when you have outdoor programming, sometimes it’s going to win.”
Arriving just after the rain stopped, Vanessa Rojas said it was her and her friends’ first time attending the festival since they moved to the town for three months in order to conduct bat research in the Cherokee National Forest.
“It’s bigger than we thought it was going to be and the music is awesome,” Rojas said holding a tub of strawberries while standing in front of the bluegrass stage. “We are glad we came out.”
This year’s festival incorporated a sweet new opportunity for festival attendees and town residents to participate in promoting and supporting local businesses, plus win prizes.
“The point is to show that these festivals pay off,” said Molly Campbell, town of Unicoi community relations coordinator.
She said for every receipt showing $10 spent at a town business, an individual could earn one ticket for giveaways.
“The idea behind the giveaway is trying to develop a strong base in the local community,” Barbee said. “We’re just trying to feed our businesses new customers.”
“Some people have $800 to $900 in receipts,” he said. “Some people got 70-80 tickets. We didn’t anticipate people saving their receipts in envelopes, but they did.”
Drawings took place throughout the last two hours to give away promotional packages.
Barbee said he is proud of all the people who worked to make the event happen and made it out despite the weather.
“When people are happy and vendors are happy, it just reflects well on the town of Unicoi,” Barbee said. “Everyone thinks it’s special and I do, too. It’s a country festival that hasn’t outgrown itself yet and we work really hard to make sure it doesn’t outgrow itself.”