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Watermelon Festival a hit for vendors, attendees

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Going to the annual Watermelon Festival means eating and shopping for a lot of people and guests were not to be disappointed this year. There were a record number of vendors and for the first-time vendors were stationed across US 19 as well.

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Sure, finding a familiar old standby is nice; a food with that familiar sign out front. However, making the choice for lunch, then hearing that your neighbor owns the booth makes that warm and fuzzy feeling happen.

One thing everyone loves to see at a fair or festival is kettle cooked popcorn and there was no disappointment Saturday because there was kettle corn for everyone. Abundance of Grace Kettle Corn came to Chiefland’s Watermelon Festival for the first time this year.

Owner Connie Brosam, of Old Town, said she “works together with my daughter April and my son Jacob. We’ve been in business four years now but this is our first year at the Chiefland Watermelon Festival and we’re really looking forward to it. We make the kettle corn on site in a brushed steel kettle which really makes a difference in the taste.”

Then corn is transferred to a beautiful copper kettle to be served up. Brosam also had other flavors available such as caramel corn that she makes ahead and brings with her.

Bayou Billy’s had a variety of drink flavors served in fun tin mugs that owner Lynda Arnold, who has been in business 3 years, explained they order from Bayou Billy directly. She was very proud of her “Number 11 Wagon that Bayou Billy built himself. It’s one of the original style wagon’s and aren’t made like this anymore.” 

The Bayou Billy wagon is easy to spot with its rustic old world barrel look. Arnold, from Bronson, is so pleased with her Bayou Billy Drink wagon business that they have expanded to a second wagon for snow cones. The snow cone wagon is very like her beverage wagon except its look is further enhanced by a rainbow window of flavors on display resembling an old carnival calliope.

Sweet Pea’s Pony Rides owned by Tennessee transplants Tori and Bryan Thompson who now reside in Trenton. The Thompson’s have been providing animal rescue services for exotic animals. They started doing pony rides about five years ago and said, “It’s been a learning experience. We now have two rides and found out you have to have a tent for protection against the sun.” The pony walker they brought to the Watermelon Festival holds four ponies and the attention of young and old for most of the day.

Ryan Anderson from Brookins Tractor Corporation of Chiefland was available to answer questions and brought a display of tractors, including a 1946 John Deere engine that could have been used to support a grain mill.  Anderson said he’s “been coming to the Watermelon Festival as long as I can remember.”

Tim’s Train Rides from Ocklawaha offered up boiled peanuts for the first time this year. His train booked rides to little ones wanting to hop in a brightly decorated barrel turned coach and go for a loop around the park.

Tim said, “I built it myself, each car is welded on it’s own platform and can turn independently.”

The Suncoast Credit Union booth with their “Wheel of Fortune” game also e sponsored the seed spitting contest.

Another notable stop was Cedar Key’s Turner Family Honey and Bees booth. Cindy Turner was available to offer samples of honey, advice and encouragement for honey bee preservation.

George’s Plants showcased a variety of garden plants and pollinator attractor specimens and flora.

There was certainly no lack of handmade crafts to be found with so many talented local artists. One such booth was owned by Chiefland resident Amy Walker of Island Girl Craft Junkie with her beach themed signs and crafts. Amy was one of many booths showcasing their hand painted whimsical signs. One could also find several booths offering stitched, sewn and painted fabric crafts, wood cutouts, lawn art and many other decorative gifts.

There were plenty cause worthy booths to find as well. One such booth manned by Luther Callaway Librarian Sue Ann Burkhardt, Friends of the Library vice president Tammy Ippolito and secretary Amanda Adkins. The Friends group helps promote library events and activities offered for the community throughout the year at the library in Chiefland. The volunteer group hopes to find more residents looking to be part of the library family and wants to remind everyone to just stop by or call for information.

Chiefland Paws & Claws, a pet rescue and adoption nonprofit brought several dogs for adoption. Aide Kay Kish said she “currently has 14 to 16 dogs that are ready to go now.”

On the search for the free watermelon booth people might have passed a multitude of booths giving out free pens, tablets, magnets, Bibles, handheld fans, water bottles, lanyards, coloring books, comic books, pencil cases, key chains, flashlights, back packs, health care screenings, Diabetes analysis  and free tastings.

While meandering through the park shaded by oak trees, people were greeted by students of Chiefland High School who are baking their way to accomplish group goals. The Band Boosters’ Lisa Mathis said, “We are working toward new band uniforms.”

Another local vendor, Diane Child, from Butterfly Box gifts, who offered hand-crafted jewelry, donates ribbons and supplies to the Band Boosters for the students to craft necklaces and bracelets and sell as a fundraiser.

Diane said, “I just love supporting our band and students, it’s so important to me.”

The English, Art, Drama and Theater Groups were selling baked goods to raise funds to apply toward their March 2018 trip to New York where they plan of spending five days seeing the sights and a play while there. Currently the travelers are 52 strong. The bakers and booth representatives were Brandy Cofey, Jennifer Isenhoward and educator Bobbie Kidd who teaches multiple classes at Cheifland High School a couple of which are Art History, Theater, Drama and English 1. Along with the scrumptious baked goods this group also offered unique Henna Tattoos painted on by student artist Aurora Gonzales.

There was certainly no lack of variety in all that participated in this year’s Watermelon Festival or in the food that was available — everything from hamburgers to Philly cheese steak sandwiches, fried fish dinners, corn dogs, beef jerky, ice cream, snow cones, root beer floats, hot dogs, French fries, shrimp dinners, sausages, clam strips and of course, watermelons ...  lots and lots of watermelons!