Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress
In surprisingly temperate weather Friday afternoon, worker bees buzzed around the intersection of Commerce and Austin streets in downtown Jacksonville, preparing the arena for the 29th-annual Tomato Fest.
"It's usually so hot and humid," said Chamber President Peggy Renfro. "This weather is beautiful."
With only 40 percent humidity and a 77-degree day, the weather certainly was much more agreeable than the June average 85-degrees with 80 percent humidity.
"We'll have a great turnout," Renfro said.
Tomato Fest kicks off today with a welcome by Mayor Kenneth Melvin and Chamber Chairman of the Board Brett Brewer at 8:45 on the entertainment stage. The event officially opens at 9 a.m.
The day will focus on family fun, entertainment and promote a positive community spirit in Jacksonville with tomato eating contests, a truck pull challenge, a motorcycle and tractor show, history displays, tours of the Tomato Shed, live music and much more.
"Shamrock" Shelley Cleaver was setting up a display inside the Norman Activity Center Friday of all things historic Tomato Fest, including original photos of former Tomato Fest queens. The Chamber is reinstating this tradition and hopes to hold a competition later this summer so there will be a Queen to reign over the 30th Tomato Fest celebration.
Tomato Fest is held the second Saturday in June, right about the time tomatoes ripen.
One reader on Facebook messaged that he couldn't find a true Jacksonville tomato anywhere in the city the days leading up to Tomato Fest.
"I guess they're saving them all for the big show," he said.
This week, competitors vied for the title of 'best tomato dish' and Lee Ann Jackson and Judith Walker emerged triumphant. Jackson prepared a fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil salad to take the title in the "professional" category and Walker combined tomatoes with other vegetables in a savory pie to sweep the "non-professional" category.
On Wednesday, a contingent traveled to Shreveport, La., to face off against Crystal Springs, Miss., for the title of "Tomato Capital of the World." While Jacksonville tomatoes were bigger and the cities tied for 'best plate,' the Crystal Springs tomato barely edged out the Jacksonville tomato in taste. While some judges considered the contest a tie, Renfro said she's happy to repeat the contest next year and enjoyed the competition and the publicity from the event.
"I'm glad Jacksonville has tomatoes to put us on the map and I'm glad we have a festival that the whole family can enjoy," messaged Facebook reader Judith Anne Moore Johnson. "I look forward to it every year."