Lovin’ Local Life

There are signs all around town for the 20th Annual Apollo Beach Manatee Festival of the Arts. No detail about what actually happens there, but it would seem it’s an art fair like back home. It’s just down the highway by the power plant, and I’ve got nothing better to do, so I’m in!

By the time I arrive, ‘sunny Saturday’ has turned to ‘humid day’, and I am already getting sticky.  I pull off the road and park with others who don’t want to drop $5 for a closer spot.  At the Festival entrance I discover I still have to drop a $5 just to get in.  That’s different.  But now I’m in, and begin to look around.  Almost 100 artists are gathered here from across the country to meet and interact with the local community; show and sell their fine arts and crafts.  The way I usually work a show like this is to first do a fast “walk by” and canvas the whole show, then go back to the booths that are most interesting.  I quickly learn that in addition to the art fair, there is live music, food vendors, environmental exhibits, and of course, heavy promotion for the opportunity to view the Manatees. 

It sure didn’t take long to spy several exhibitors I want to get a closer look at.  As I make my second pass through, I catch a whiff of the food vendors.  Oh!  They have crab balls!  Yum. Haven’t had one since the RV Show!  And the Mullet Shack is here! I am drawn to them. They convince me to finally try my first Mullet Fish Taco—hey, not bad!!  All that, and a fresh squeezed lemonade makes for the perfect lunch.

It’s a treat to buy an original piece of art right from the artist who created it.  I am immediately drawn to Dona Marrier’s charming ceramic bird feeders and houses. Brightly painted with shiny glazed coatings, these “repurposed” ceramic tea pots, flower pots and cups, are colorful creations and fun, eclectic fashion statements to hang in the yard. 

Lora Thomas brings a more rustic look with her hand built ceramics.  I choose several table pieces that from a distance appear to be worn, leather, fringed satchels,  adorned with feathers, when in fact they are clay.  Rustic simplicity at it’s best.  Perfect for dried flowers.

Equally irresistible is Scott Bowman’s Chimes and Copper Designs.  The Chimes are beautiful, with their streaks of green oxidation, natural driftwood, and tasteful embellishments.  I wonder how long one of these would survive in my yard before being swiped?  Hmmm.  Heck with the yard.  I choose the perfect size and sounding chime to become a part of my Toy Hauler décor. 

Amy Sullivan’s Gypsyhook Beadworks catches my attention as well.  Her unique jewelry is crafted in sterling silver with precious stones. I choose several pieces made with Natural Shell, Pyrite, Pearl, Rhodochrosite and Rhyolite.

So many talented artists, so little cash.  Time to put the breaks on celebrating art! I slowly wander out of the festival, and hear people talking about the cool Manatees. After the amazing experience I had viewing Manatees in Blue Spring, I can’t imagine topping it. Although the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center is just down the highway from Secret Spot, I have yet to visit it, after months of being here.  Now I’m right next door.  I should just go, just to see the Center.  Okay!

Manatees congregate at Blue Spring because of the natural warm water spring.  They congregate at the Tampa Viewing Center because of the “man-made” warm water generated from the Electric Plant. The plant is responsible for providing power to a 2,000 square mile area and generates 4,686 megawatts of reliable energy.  They are drawn to the result of human technology.  These gentle creatures started out as 4 legged land animals and evolved into legless underwater mammals with flippers.  Their docile, curious nature is soothing and perplexing.  They have no issues with calling this place their winter home.  It’s amazing to realize these vegetarians eat 15% of their body weight daily when they can easily weigh 1,000 or more pounds. Drop a couple manatees in some of the Minnesota lakes and the milfoil problem will be gone in a hurry! 

The Manatee Center is impressive.  I explore the unique butterfly garden trail, then walk down a 900 foot tidal walkway nature trail that brings me from fiddler crab laden sand to mangrove thick waters, finally reaching out to the wide open waters of the bay. The Manatee observation decks are elaborate structures, high up from the water.  In addition to seeing Manatee, I spot several huge Tarpons reminding me again that I still haven’t found a deep sea fishing opportunity for less than $500.  Hanging over the railing looking down into the dark waters, I alert a group of folks about the Tarpons, and they all rush over to see them. And then………

I wasn’t going to. I can’t imagine being subjected to the crowds I’ve been hearing about.  Besides, how interesting could it really be?  But a woman just gave me a ticket to the Strawberry Festival!  Tomorrow is the last day.  I could run over there real quick today…it would only take half an hour… Oh, why not make this a community event day?

Dear GPS, guide me there now!  Hello Plant City, Florida, the strawberry capital of the world!  I’m on the road, heading to the 78th Annual Strawberry Festival. For just $8.00 you get all the strawberry action you could ever dream of—all things strawberry takes place here. And I’m in for free! Sounds good to me!

But it seems I parked two towns away for another $8.  The place is huge and packed and it’s almost 4:00. What could be so interesting?  Maybe the daily top-billboard name entertainment?  Or perhaps the tons of exhibits to see; from fine arts, crafts, horticulture, agriculture, commerce, industry, and livestock? Or maybe the dozens of continuous events, programs, contests and parades!  And, oh,  if you love strawberries, it’s the perfect time to enjoy them at their ripe, luscious best, grown by local farmers, straight from the vine, to your taste buds.

What an amazing celebration!  And it’s ranked in the top 40 great Fairs of the nation! The Plant City area is home to over 10,000 acres of strawberries.  Holy Cow!  There are close to 3,000 farms in Hillsborough county alone that grow fruit and vegetable crops, making it one of the largest and most revenue driven counties in the nation.  Holy Cow! Even the air here smells of sweet ripe strawberries.  How heavenly. Oooh, how heavenly that shortcake looks…..

So I am trying to make the best of a “short-cake” visit.  In addition to the many top line concerts going on, there are plenty of “free” events to experience.  I could go check out the horticulture exhibit, or the craft barn. But right now “JUMP! The Ultimate Dog Show” has started.  If I hurry I can catch some of it!  I’m pretty good at navigating through crowds, and with a little help I reach the arena where the show is taking place—it’s not over yet!  What a hilarious, non-stop, action packed, show!  These canines and their Handlers execute amazing stunts.  Jumping, flying through the air, dancing, acrobatics, and ohh so fearlessly!  And I thought I had my babies trained.  They should have come with me to see this!  How amazing that most of these talented pooches were adopted from Animal Shelters.  No pedigrees in the house, just super cool mutts with raw desire to please. It just goes to show you, you can teach an old dog, new tricks!  It was worth the drive just for this show.  I proudly take part in the standing ovation at the shows end.

People around me are talking about the pig races.  What?  I listen in, and finally outright ask, “what pig races?”  In just about an hour, there are pigs that race and swim, and it’s supposed to be hilarious.  In the meantime, at least 5 strawberry shortcakes have gone by.  I decide I need to go get one, and then find the pig races.

Heavenly cake.  Oh yeah. This is awesome! Fresh, made-from-scratch pound cake with big plump sweet strawberries and real whipped cream. Oh yeah! I end up waddling up and down a few exhibit isles, learning about growing and cultivating produce.  I see a ton of people off in the distance, swarmed around an exhibit that seems like an archery set up—I’m trying to get a peek—something about a Lizard Lick Krew, but I just spot a couple of guys standing in front of the booth, and it’s too hard to see what they are doing, so I move on.  What ever it was, they sure packed a crowd!   And not too far away is the sound of a country inspired duet.  If I enjoyed country music I’d be following that sound to the source. 

Instead, I head to the pig challenge area, stopping, eh-hem, for a bowl of chocolate covered strawberries on the way.  Hey, it’s not that many…I’m given a Festival program.  I take it and my berries and find a good spot to watch pigs race.  Wow, there is sooooo much to do here at the fair.  I should have gotten here right at 10 am. Gee, so sorry I missed the Strawberry Mashed Potato Pie Eating Contest yesterday…..  Oh well, next year.  I’m kidding!  Really!

This pig race ain’t for no sissy’s!  People are hootin’ and hollerin’ and foot stompin’ waiting for the pigs to appear and perform.  Robinson’s Racing Pigs and Paddling Porkers.  It’s true, and it’s downright hilarious!  The pigs come out 4 at a time and race on hoof, then jump into the water.  If you could ever imagine seeing a pig DIVE into a pool about 10 yards long and start swimming.  Yes, it’s true.  And the crowd goes positively “hog wild’, cheering them on.  I about pee it is so hilarious. Again, worth the drive out, just to see that show.

Well I have about filled my dance card of events for the day. I proceed to the fairs exit. But oh, there’s a strawberry shake stand.  Sweet, ripe strawberry shakes. And how about that? Right next door, half a flat of strawberries for $4.00?  Girls gotta have it! Antioxidants, baby!

The Plant City Annual Strawberry Festival.  Mark your calendar now, this is a berry fun time, and something you don’t want to miss! 

And thanks, ma’am, for the ticket!  I’m really lovin’ this local life!

Don’t Want to Miss a Thing? Subscribe to My Blog

Speak Your Mind

*