The strawberry – a simple, yet delicious fruit that has become a recognizable item across most of the world. The fruit, which originated in France in the 1750’s, has since become a tasty treat in many of the foods we consume today. It is also the item that draws nearly 30,000 visitors each year into upstate New York at the Owego Strawberry Festival. The festival, entering its 34th year of existence, has become one of the most anticipated and celebrated events of the year in the area. The weekend (June 20, 21) is filled with activities for the whole family, live music, local shopping, and of course…lots and lots of strawberries. I had a chance to chat with the President of the Historic Owego Marketplace, Laura Eberly about what the Strawberry Festival is, and why people are so drawn to it.
RAL: What is Owego Strawberry Festival all about?
LA: Owego Strawberry Festival is a weekend long celebration of the town and surrounding regions. The event started in 1980, and since then we have been drawing in huge crowds of people to sample locally grown strawberries and take in the sights. The festival weekend is filled with street vendors, serving up local foods like spiedies (marinated meat that goes on a sandwich) live music, games, incredible dining, and of course, lots of strawberries in every form and fashion.
RAL: Talk to me about the demographic of the event…who shows up to the weekend?
LA: Well, the festival is a family event at its core. We do get a lot of families that come through for the weekend, biggest reason being the vast array of activities that the festival and the Finger Lakes have to offer. Typically, I would say that we have about 80% adults and 20% children during our typical tourism times. When the festival rolls around, that ratio is erased. We get a lot of children and family outings.
RAL: Take me through a day at the Strawberry Festival – What can I expect as a visitor?
LA: The event starts in Friday evening, and runs all day Saturday. We don’t like to keep people waiting, so we kick things off Friday night with a 5k run. The run is a great way for families to get out and enjoy what the town has to offer. Last year, we had 500 runners participate in the event, and will have an additional 300 spaces available this year. We obviously have an abundance of strawberry foods to choose from – shortcake is the most popular, but there is so many different items to sample, it could keep you busy all weekend. We cap off Friday night with a great fireworks show, and this year, we are hoping to expand on that event and make it even bigger and more spectacular than in years past. Saturday is when things really kick into high gear.
Saturday is one of the biggest days of the year for us. We have the biggest parade in upstate New York, running for 90 minutes. The streets will be filled with Arts & Crafts vendors (about 200 booths). It has a lot of cool floats, performers, music, etc. that the kids really love. After that, it’s pretty much a day of celebration and fun. We have something for everyone to do. The kids can enjoy jugglers, live music and games, while the parents can take to the local restaurants and shops for some local dining and art gallery browsing. The 2 days go by so fast, and every year, people start talking about the next festival right away.
RAL: What makes this event unique compared to others in the area?
LA: Honestly, I would have to say the town itself. Owego is an incredible place – filled with old architecture, historic buildings and a lot of character. On top of that, the Finger Lakes region offers so much to do, even outside of the towns. The beautiful, natural state of the land here is something that is really appealing to travelers – adults and families alike. Lastly, this is a unique event in the sense that we have a whole weekend, that bears significant economical impact on the community, based around something as simple as a strawberry. That is unique in itself.
RAL: What does this event mean to the community?
LA: The event is put on by the Historic Owego Marketplace. The town has a lot of history and significance, especially to the people who have called Owego home for their whole lives. The event itself has a tremendous economic impact on the local shops, restaurants and vendors. With twenty to thirty thousand people coming into town in just 2 days, you can imagine the financials of this event are important to the town. The proceeds from the sale of vendor booths go to beautification (plantings, banners, lights, etc) and toward funding other smaller events in the village (Lights On The River, and holiday events). So all around, it is a very positive weekend for the town and its economy. We are very fortunate to have something so unique to offer.
To Learn More About the 34th Annual Owego Strawberry Festival, click here.