To ring in the strawberry harvest, Ponchatoula held its annual Strawberry Festival last weekend at Memorial Park.
The event was April 10-12,bringing in thousands of visitors. The festival is a fundraiser for nonprofit and charitable organizations in addition to an annual celebration. The event also helps generate revenue for the town of Ponchatoula with about $33 million coming from it, according to the Strawberry Festival website.
Many of Southeastern’s Greek life students participated by setting up booths to sell food and drinks.
Jonathan Frey, Kappa Sigma member said.“I worked the Kappa Sigma booth at Strawberry Festival. We look forward to this weekend because the money really helps out our chapter. What’s unfortunate is that the weather was not the best, but thankfully, Saturday was pretty enough to make enough money for the whole weekend.”
Frey said, “we sold charbroiled oysters and pork rinds made from scratch at our booth. The great thing about Strawberry Festival is that since so many brothers participate, it makes it an enjoyable time to be out there.”
The event is one of many in Southern Louisiana that helps bring in tourists. In 2010, an estimated 300,000 people from all over come to the festival, says the official Strawberry Festival website.
Christopher Hurst of Kappa Sigma said, “After working the Strawberry Festival for two years, I have come across many new experiences and met a lot of great people. One of my favorite things about Strawberry Fest is everyone coming together and enjoying the Southern Louisiana culture.”
The website says Strawberry Fest is the second largest free festival in the state, but it somehow manages to keep its small town feel. Nothing at the event is priced over $10, so it’s affordability makes it one of the reasons people keep coming back.
“I sold $1 ice cream with my sisters, the wonderful ladies of Phi Mu. We donated our proceeds to Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, but I also enjoyed my time helping out the Kappa Sigmas as their fraternity sweetheart. I did everything from assembly line, to selling our sold out pork rinds and oysters,” Skylar Erickson of Phi Mu said. “Everyone was very happy, and even though the weather started out bad we still had an amazing turnout while helping out our philanthropies.”
Being such a large tourist attraction, it is no exception to the locals. Residents from Ponchatoula and the surrounding area flock to the festival every year.
“Growing up in Hammond, my family would go every year to Strawberry Fest. As a kid, I loved the parade the most while watching from my dad’s shoulders. Now I go with my friends, so it’s a fun way to just hang out and enjoy the food while listening to music. Being in Alpha Omicron Pi, we are not allowed to participate in the festival because of the sale of alcohol, but I went anyways to support my friends in Phi Mu and Kappa Sigma that worked it,” Lainey Thorske, Alpha Omicron Pi member said.
The festival is always held the second weekend of April due to the peak harvest for strawberries being late March through early April. Ponchatoula has become known as the “Strawberry Capital of the World,” making Louisiana choose the strawberry as the state fruit in 2000, according to Strawberry Festival officials.
Brooke Matherne of Phi Mu said, “I worked the ice cream booth with all the other girls in my sorority. We raised almost a $1,000 but were hoping for more. Unfortunately, the weather slowed us down. It was a great opportunity to meet new people from other places, and we even had support from other Phi Mus that are now alum or from different schools.”
Strawberry Festival is one of the largest free festivals in Louisiana in terms of it’s visitors, bringing in thousands of people and millions in revenue