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Tennessee is home to numerous strawberry festivals in May
By Doug Graves
Ohio Correspondent

PORTLAND, Tenn.  – The mention of Tennessee and you might first think of country music, the Great Smoky Mountains, Davy Crockett or the Grand Ole Opry. But strawberries?
At one time Tennessee was known as “The Strawberry Capital of the World.” And the hotspot for the fruit was Portland.
Strawberry crops were first grown in Portland in 1881 and by 1908 the Portland Strawberry Growers Association was organized, involving several local growers. In 1912, 107 railroad cars of strawberries were shipped from Portland.
In 1940, the Sumner County Fruit Growers Association was formed and was made up of 20 of the larger strawberry growers around the north central part of Tennessee. In 1942, the first official Middle Tennessee Strawberry Festival was held May 16-18 and was advertised as “A Celebration to Open Berry Harvest.” Roughly 5,000 attended this first-ever event, including then Tennessee Gov. Prentice Cooper.
Kristen Hope is event director for the Portland Chamber of Commerce. Hope said the Portland Strawberry Festival brings life each year to this town of less than 14,000.
“We’re a quiet community but this two-day festival brings 40,000 people to town,” Hope said. “Our festival is growing in size each year. About 15 years ago it was dying out. The Chamber of Commerce took it over and was able to put some manpower and bring it back to life.”
Portland, is in the north central part of the state, north of Nashville and close to the Kentucky border.
Many farmers in and around Sumner County grow and bring the strawberries to Portland each May for the annual festival.
“Strawberries are normally a hard fruit to grow and they’re finicky, with a short lifespan,” Hope said. “You need the right conditions to grow the strawberry. The berry grows quite well here. Strawberries love Tennessee for soil that we have, specifically around Portland. The soil in this area makes for a naturally sweet berry.”
Strawberries are still a big thing in Tennessee, though. Kim Doddridge, of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, said the fruit has a $10 million impact on the state. 
“The strawberries are doing very well,” said Shelby Vanatta, of Cabin Hill Farm in Montgomery County. “Our opening date was April 24.”
The 83rd annual Middle Tennessee Strawberry Festival will be held May 10-11. The theme for this year’s event is “Boots & Berries.” The grand marshals at this year’s event are former strawberry farmers Ralph Cook, Bailey Wayne and Teresa England, as well as the Portland High School FFA.
This once quaint event has grown to include a multitude of events, such as a Strawberry Quilt Show, Strawberry Pageants, Strawberry Slam Wrestling Event, Strawberry Golf Tournament, farmers market, art showcase, live music concerts, carnival, a 5K walk/run, bingo and much more.
The Middle Tennessee Strawberry Festival, though not the oldest of its kind in the state, helped spawned several other festivals in nearby counties. Municipalities across the state are celebrating the agricultural heritage of strawberries in their communities.
Humboldt (in both Gibson and Madison counties) will hold its 86th strawberry festival May 5-11. This festival utilizes nine blocks in the city and attracts 75,000 annually.
Dayton (Rhea County), in eastern Tennessee, will hold its strawberry festival May 6-11.
Unicoi (Unicoi County) will hold its 21st annual strawberry festival on May 18 while Wartrace (Bedford County) will hold its strawberry festival on May 11.
With warm spring days in the forecast for all parts of Tennessee, farm fields will quickly turn red with juicy and sweet strawberries. Producers across the state of Tennessee say the time is perfect for strawberries. Most strawberry farms started selling strawberries this past week. The typical strawberry season lasts four to six weeks.

4/30/2024