A brief history of the Florida Strawberry Festival

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The Florida Strawberry Festival, circa 1976 | Photo via Florida Memory

The Florida Strawberry Festival is just two weeks away, kicking off on Thurs., March 3. From the crowning of each festival’s Strawberry Queen to a fresh strawberry shortcake, the festival has its fair share of traditions, dating back to 1930.

Originally called the Plant City Strawberry Festival, the Plant City Lions Club started the annual event to honor King Strawberry, the leader in the area’s agricultural products. Charter member Albert Schneider led the charge, and with the help of the Club, brought on the addition of the Strawberry Queen competition, kicking off the first of many festivals.

Commerce Collection

Strawberry Queen, Martha Lastinger, circa 1976 | Photo via Florida Memory

State Archives of Florida/State Archives of Florida

The event went off without a hitch for over a decade, occurring annually until World War II halted operations in 1941, after the crowning of Strawberry Queen, Jane Langford. After that, the festival ceased until 1947, when operations were revamped by The Norman McLeod American Legion Post 27 + the Plant City Junior Chamber of Commerce, leading to the first festival in years in 1948.

Fast forward to the 70s, the team decided to add in celebrity entertainment and invited Dale Evans, wife of Roy Rogers, to perform. From there, big names like Pat Boone and Anita Bryant took the stage.

Among other critical changes to the festival in the 70s, entertainment was taken over by The Florida Strawberry Festival Association and a uniform and flagship color were decided upon for members of the association. Thanks to the team at Hooker’s Department Store, association members began wearing red jackets, due to the reminiscence of strawberries.

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Strawberry sale at the festival, circa ’76 | Photo via Florida Memory

Today, the festival ranks among the top 40 fairs in North America, maintaining the same internal workings as it did when it opened. In terms of local strawberry production, more than 10,000 acres of strawberries are planted in the area every year by 2,800 local farms, generating over $360 million in produce.

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