Courtesy of Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival Inc.
Ponchatoula is home to a large strawberry festival of the state. Each year, numerous people from all over the world visit during one weekend to share in various cooked and strawberry-flavored foods.
The 2019 Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival will take place from April 12-14. The festival is located at Memorial Park in Ponchatoula.
Donald Lanier, chairman of the festival, expressed what makes the festival unique.
“Our festival is the largest free festival in the state of Louisiana,” shared Lanier.
“We have a strawberry eating contest. We also have a parade on Saturday morning that runs strictly downtown. It’s a massive parade, and there’s nothing like it around here.”
The first strawberry festival can be traced back 47 years.
“Dr. Charles Gideon, a past mayor, was influential in getting Ponchatoula, the name ‘Strawberry Capital of the World,’ “said Lanier. “He proved more berries were shipped by rail in Ponchatoula than Hammond, and that’s how we got the name. The festival started back in 1972 when it started as a small one block fair to celebrate the strawberries. It’s grown to what it is today and is now comprised of the whole town.”
Jamie Holley, the assistant director of public relations, explained about the board that is in charge of putting the event.
“Our board is responsible for the festival,” stated Holley. “We are made up of voting and appointed members. The voting members are from the local non-profits in the area. The appointed members are the chairman’s pick.”
In addition to making appearances on Fox 8 News, the board gets people’s attention through multiple forms of media.
“We do every part of media that you can imagine, from TV to radio,” shared Lanier. “We take ads out of magazines that cover the south in Mississippi and Alabama. I also do billboards in Hattiesburg and Gulfport to hit the casino traffic.”
The Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival attracts tourists throughout the entire weekend.
“We aim for the day-trippers,” explained Lanier. “We pull a lot of people out of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. We also have full occupancy in all the hotels of the Ponchatoula and Hammond areas as we have people coming from over the world. They call us from England and everywhere. The New Orleans area attracts worldwide attention, so we try to get those people into town.”
The festival provides the main attraction through local farmers from around the area.
“We go to many parishes, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Livingston, as any farmers are welcome to bring their berries to sell,” stated Lanier. “We have farmers row right here on sixth street, and the farmers come and set up their berries and sell them, including foods such as delicious strawberry shortcakes.”
In order to make up for the costs of the festival, the board raises revenue strictly through the rides.
“Every bit of money the festival board gets is from the rides,” said Lanier. “All of our food booths are made up of non-profits. We make a little bit off the booths, but it’s pretty much just to cover our insurance for the weekend because we have a pretty steep insurance premium to cover an accident.”
Gary Duplessis, a native of Springfield, shared why he loves taking part in the annual strawberry festival.
“I love helping with the nonprofit organizations and the community,” expressed Duplessis. “ I enjoy the music, sampling all the food and seeing the ideas that the people incorporate into the festival.”
Lanier urged for as many people and students to show support at the upcoming festival.
“We strive to have a good family-friendly atmosphere,” said Lanier. “You want to come and support your organizations and be active in the community, so in the future you can have people come and support you. It’s all a big circle, and it helps keep the community strong.”