[Courtesy of Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival]

History of the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival

07:00 April 04, 2024
By: Jeff Boudreaux

Ponchatoula's Famous Strawberry Fest

Head on out to Louisiana's strawberry capital of the world and enjoy the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival from April 12-24. The free fest will take place at the Ponchatoula Memorial Park on N. 6th Street and will feature lots of strawberry-based food from local nonprofit organizations, carnival rides, and even a parade on April 13.

Live music acts for 2024 will include Thomas Cain, Tyler Kinchen & the Right Pieces, the Phunky Monkeys, Ferg's Hwy, Clay Cormier, and many more. Support Louisiana's strawberry farmers by taking part in a festival that has a long history within Ponchatoula.

A Sweet History

Located in the heart of Tangipahoa Parish, the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival is an annual, lively celebration of an everyday fruit that has become synonymous with the region—the delightful strawberry.

The festival's roots begin in the flourishing farmland community surrounding Ponchatoula, whose rich soil and environment have generated the perfect conditions for strawberry cultivation. The timeline of the festival dates back several decades, celebrating the community's spirit, agricultural pride, and, of course, the sweet appeal of those luscious strawberries. Before you plan your trip, take a moment to learn a little about the history of Louisiana's largest free festival, taking place this year from April 12-14.

[Courtesy of Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival]

In the Beginning

The first thing to understand is that the title of "Strawberry Capital of the World" did not come easily to the good people of Ponchatoula. In fact, they had to wrestle it away from their neighbors in Hammond, who previously advertised themselves as the "Strawberry Capital of Louisiana" (nice foresight for Ponchatoula—go big or go home). Thanks to a little sleuthing by Councilman Charles H. Gideon, he discovered that Ponchatoula's 194 freight cars of exported strawberries far outweighed Hammond's meager (by comparison) 17. Thus, the city of Ponchatoula was finally on track to be given the recognition that it deserved as an agricultural beacon of the South.

In 1971, the Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce, along with an area nonprofit organization, the Jaycees, envisioned a festival that would not only celebrate the town's abundant harvest, but also unite the community. This would result in the first-ever Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, established in 1972. Commencing with a modest, 11-booth set up on North 6th Street, it would mark the beginning of a yearly tradition that would soon grow exponentially. This inaugural festival, which drew an estimated 15,000 visitors over its initial two-day event, laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the state's second-largest free gathering (after Mardi Gras), one that continuously draws well over 300,000 people during its three-day festival weekend. Not too shabby for an event that is always booked on the same weekend as the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans.

[Courtesy of Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival]

What to Enjoy at the Fest

As the festival has continued to grow, so has its many offerings. Although it began as a rather simple event where local farmers could sell off their strawberry harvest, it has evolved into a multifaceted celebration featuring live music, a parade, carnival rides, a beauty pageant, and that fabulous array of strawberry-themed delicacies. Of course, there's tons of savory fare that will satisfy the hunger of festival-goers, including étouffée, jambalaya, and those ever-addictive Natchitoches meat pies. Adults can also enjoy their pick of refreshments from strawberry beer to strawberry daiquiris. You won't want to miss the strawberry wine (eat your heart out, Tommy James).

Beyond the food and entertainment aspect, the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival functions as a showcase for the region's cultural heritage. Local artisans have been given a prime platform to exhibit their talented handiwork, creating an eclectic arts and crafts marketplace within the festival grounds. The variety of art, music, and traditional Louisiana cuisine on display goes a long way in attracting the fest's diverse crowd each year. The festival has likewise become a tribute to the very community that organizes and participates within it. Volunteers and local businesses work together to ensure the festival's continued success, reinforcing the civic-minded pride that ties the citizens of Ponchatoula together.

Over the decades, the festival has naturally had to adapt to a change in the times, while remaining true to its dynamic heritage. Agricultural advancements have streamlined strawberry cultivation, whereas external influences, such as adverse weather patterns, have presented its fair share of challenges. And just like any other event, two years are missing from the festival's history due to the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted our world from 2020-2021. Yet, the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival has weathered each of these changes, emerging each spring as a picturesque celebration of this amazing city's resilience and durability.

[Courtesy of Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival]

A Lasting Legacy

Most impressively, the festival has gained recognition well beyond Ponchatoula's city limits. The unique charm and cultural significance of this "Strawberry Capital" continues to attract attendees from Louisiana's neighboring states and beyond. This broad appeal provides a reciprocal boost to the local economy, while also establishing the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival as a can't miss event on the region's festival calendar. Above all, the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival celebrates the spirit of a community deeply rooted in pride for their culture and their crop. Each year, as the aroma of fresh strawberries fills the air and the sounds of joy echo throughout the festival grounds, Ponchatoula defends its crown as the ultimate purveyors of all things strawberry.

So if you happen to get excited whenever you see strawberries on sale in the grocery store, then the abundance of fresh flats for sale on the Ponchatoula roadside will likely blow your mind. Perhaps strawberry lends its flavor to some of your favorite concoctions, such as a juicy New Orleans sno-ball or that sometimes-derided third option of the half-gallon of Neapolitan ice cream that occupies your freezer. Well, in the strawberry mecca that is Ponchatoula in April, you don't have to choose between chocolate-covered or deep-fried strawberries. Have both, plus some of the best strawberry shortcake you've ever tasted. Heck, you can even go the extra mile by taking part in a strawberry-eating contest. Just be sure to treat yourself to a bottle of Amato's world-famous Sweet Strawberry wine. See you at the festival.

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