Tomato Festival takes center stage Saturday

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Serving up friendly competition and complimentary sandwich samples, the Tomato Festival will take center stage in downtown Cartersville Saturday.To be presented in the Founders Oak parking lot, the fifth annual offering will occur during the Cartersville Farmer’s Market from 7 a.m. to noon.

“It’s meant to be a fun event that highlights tomatoes during the height of their summer growing season,” said Lillie Read, manager of the Cartersville Downtown Development Authority. “In the South, especially, the tomato is an important part of the summer garden, and we wanted to give our farmers a chance to show off their tomato growing skills and remind folks how delicious a locally grown tomato really is.

“... This year, as in years past, we will have some tomato competitions going on at the Tomato Festival,” she said, adding the contest’s competitors will be market vendors. “Starting around 9 a.m., we will have entries in three categories that will be available for the public to judge. They are Biggest Tomato, Ugliest Tomato and — everyone’s favorite — Best Tasting Tomato. Judging will be open from 9 [to] 11 a.m. with the winner of the individual competitions being announced around 11:30.”

She continued, “While the competition is going on, volunteers from the Bartow Master Gardeners will be preparing and passing out samples of tomato sandwiches made from tomatoes grown by our market vendors. And, to top it all off, Bob Smith from the City Cellar will be on site to fix up some of his famous fried green tomatoes for people to come and try. There will be music from the Owens Brothers at the market, plus a few activities like chalk and coloring sheets for kids.”

The Cartersville Farmer’s Market operates Wednesdays, 4 to 8 p.m., and Saturdays, 7 a.m. to noon, through Oct. 25 — except for the first Saturday in October — at Founder’s Oak parking lot on North Public Square.

Started in the early 1980s, the Cartersville Farmer’s Market was spearheaded by the late Bartow County Extension Agent Walter Culverhouse to help local farmers sell their excess produce. Through the years, the market has evolved to now also include flowers, organic produce, canned goods, jellies, herbs, baked goods and craft items.

As Read noted, the Bartow County Cooperative Extension Office and its Master Gardener Extension Volunteers will continue to support the market’s upcoming festival.

“The Bartow County Extension office assists farmers and local markets in a support role by providing educational programs, troubleshooting services and assisting with market promotion,” Bartow County Extension Coordinator Paul Pugliese said. “Our Master Gardener Extension Volunteers will assist with serving tomatoes during the contest and tallying the public’s votes for the best tasting tomatoes.

“The festivals are a way of promoting the Cartersville Farmer’s Market and bringing new people out to the market for an event. It’s a great opportunity to engage consumers with the market vendors and learn more about the variety of tomatoes and other vegetables that are locally grown. Along with other events and activities throughout the market season, we hope that this will introduce new people to the downtown area and highlight the diversity of our thriving local farmer’s market.”

For Read, one of the most enjoyable parts of the Tomato Festival is talking with people about sandwich preferences.

“People who come to the festival always seem to enjoy themselves,” Read said. “You will see folks socializing, strolling and sampling the wares, and it’s a great opportunity to meet people in the community who you might not otherwise encounter. And while the Tomato Festival is meant to be fun — and it is — it’s also a way to promote local food and local agriculture. The most healthful and flavorful food that you can buy is produce that is grown in your community during its natural growing season and that is exactly what you get at the [Cartersville] Farmer’s Market.

“I enjoy passing around our samples of tomato sandwiches and fried green tomatoes; the sandwiches almost always spark a discussion about what individuals like on their sandwich, and it’s often quite different. There are purists who peel the tomatoes and take the crust off the bread; there are those who are particular about the mayonnaise you use; some who absolutely have to have it with pepper; and others who like to put a personal twist on their sandwich. For example, I met a gentleman at the Tomato Festival last year who swore by adding sweet pickles and hot sauce to his sandwich and encouraged me to do the same.”

For more information about the Tomato Festival and the Cartersville Farmer’s Market, call the Cartersville DDA at 770-607-3480 or visit www.facebook.com/cartersvilledowntown or www.facebook.com/CartersvilleFarmersMarket.