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Florida Strawberry Festival’s 11-day run starts today

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Published:   |   Updated: February 27, 2014 at 06:57 AM

PLANT CITY — Beverly Hill travels to fairs in eight states selling rubber stamps with all kinds of designs.

The Florida Strawberry Festival is always one of her favorites.

“It’s a fun festival, very family oriented,” Hill said Wednesday as she set up her Stamp Art booth for today’s festival opening. “I travel all over the eastern United States and I just love coming here.”

Across the festival grounds, vendors, carnival workers and others were putting finishing touches on this year’s celebration of King Strawberry. Gates open at 10 a.m.

Festival General Manager Paul Davis was keeping an eye on the forecast as he prepared for the 11-day festival to get under way. Rainy skies were predicted for at least the first part of opening day.

“As an outdoor event, you always have to deal with the weather, which is the one thing you can’t control,” he said. “But we’re ready for a great festival.”

A cancellation by country singer Ronnie Milsap for his 3:30 p.m. Friday show sent festival officials scrambling, but they quickly signed BJ Thomas to take his place.

Tickets for the Milsap concert will be honored at the Thomas show or fans can get a refund at the festival grounds, Davis said. A Milsap representative apologized for the cancellation, explaining it was due to Milsap being unable to travel due to recent surgery.

Festival organizers hope 500,000 visitors or more will walk through the turnstiles by the time it closes on March 9.

Across the grounds on Wednesday, preparations for the crowds were in full swing.

Susan Mayo, Strawberry Crest High School agriculture teacher, supervised about a dozen FFA students who were creating a log cabin replica for a school booth competition. The relatively new school is entering a booth in the festival for the second time and hopes to top last year’s second-place finish.

“Of course, we’re shooting for number one,” Mayo said as her students sawed lumber to size for the booth.

Senior T.J. McNamee and sophomore Dylan Taylor said the cabin idea was weeks in the making and included salvaging lumber from an abandoned shed.

“It was a lot of long and hard work,” McNamee said.

The festival grounds include a new building that houses several exhibits, including a plant show and competition sponsored by the Plant City Garden Club. Lisa Firm, who is in charge of the youth competition, said she was impressed with the number of youngsters who were bringing in plants they had nurtured.

The first- through ninth-graders compete for cash and ribbons.

Not all the festival related activities were taking place on the festival grounds. At St. Clement Catholic Church, volunteers spent Wednesday preparing 600 flats of strawberries for the church’s shortcake booth.

Kevin McFaul, who coordinates the operation with Paul Hetrick, said St. Clement will sell 90,000 shortcakes during the festival. About 150 volunteers a day hull, clean, slice and mix the berries with sugar before the mixture is trucked to the festival.

“We’ve done this for a lot of years and we’ll be ready when the festival opens,” he said.

dnicholson@tampatrib.com

(813) 394-5103

Twitter: @dnicholsonTBO

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