Tomato Festival draws estimated 8,000 visitors
As ice cream lovers appeared at Ken Mogle's Cold Stone Creamy trailer at the Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival, he was quick to offer up a sample.
It might have been the appropriate thing to do before patrons agreed to purchase a three-ounce portion of tomato ice cream, complete with whipped cream, graham cracker pie crust and a cherry tomato on top.
"I've had people tell me it tastes like a ketchup shake, Chef Boyardee ravioli or frozen tomato soup, which makes sense because that's what it's made with," Mogle said. "About 5 percent of the people say it's horrible, but the majority of people say it's not bad."
At Huber Park on Aug. 17-18, the tomato was king for the annual festival that celebrates hometown pioneer Alexander Livingston, the man who gave the world the tomato as a commercial crop.
Organizers estimated as many as 8,000 people showed up for the 48th annual event, which featured country rock band McGuffey Lane as the headline entertainment and a four-hour Tomato Jam Battle of the Bands, which was new this year.
Visitors for the first time could also down a cold beer as the festival turned to a beer garden to help boost profits.
"We had no complaints," said Mary Hudson, president of Reynoldsburg Tomato Festivals Inc. "We were hoping to generate an additional $5,000, but we're not sure yet how close we got to that. We were very, very pleased and I think we did everything right."
Reynoldsburg City Council voted 6-1 on July 2 to approve a special permit for a beer garden in the park; it was cordoned off and sat away from children's activities. Alcohol typically is not permitted in Huber Park.
Patrons had to be 21 years old to enter the beer garden and they were required to wear a wristband.
"We added a lot of new things this year," Hudson said. "The Truro Township Fire Department demonstrated the Jaws of Life and Life Flight came in and landed. The car show on Saturday was absolutely huge, with cars parked all the way down Davidson Drive and into the park."
The festival's Senior Tomato King and Queen made their way around the grounds in a golf cart.
Art and Betty Jacobs, who moved to Reynoldsburg in 1961, have been involved in the community for years. Art Jacobs is president of the Livingston House Society.
"You see a lot of people doing a lot of good things in the community by taking part in something like this," he said. "A lot of times, you hear so much about the bad things. When you start taking part in the community, you see some of the good things that are going on and it's great."
Kids with painted tiger and skeleton faces raced through the mini-midway, headed for the inflatables, with parents in tow.
One mom, Annie Petty, who is deaf, laughed as she watched her children leap into a bounce house.
"I love the tomato festival," she signed, her words interpreted by her son. "I've been going here since I was 2."
Christina and Randy Ash watched their 6-year-old bounce while they rocked their baby in a stroller.
"We come to the festival because it's fun and we like being a part of the community," Randy Ash said.
"My son loves the bounce house every year," Christina Ash said.
The festival featured free admission for browsing various tomato and tomato gift displays and booths from local organizations. A $10 wristband gave access to all games and bounce houses, while a $5 wristband for ages 6 and younger included only the midway games.
The giant pinball machine was the most popular game, with kids and adults lining up to watch the mini basketball make its way up the giant game to bounce against ringing obstacles, scoring points that added up to prizes.
A few Reynoldsburg High School cheerleaders walked by the midway, watching the fun as they balanced balloon hats on their heads.
Volunteer Paul Yarger, wearing a tomato-red shirt, said he enjoys working at the festival.
"I've been volunteering for the past nine years," he said. "My wife and I both like to get involved with the community."
The festival, with its $50,000 budget, relies on more than 100 volunteers and sponsorships. Heartland Bank was this year's presenting sponsor.
A new group of directors took over the festival in 2009 as it struggled with a lack of funding. A scaled-back event, going from five to two days, was moved from Civic Park to Huber Park.
"I've heard more positive things about this event, and it's really gotten back to the way it used to be," Betty Jacobs said.
Hudson said she was "thrilled" with Friday's turnout.
"The weather has been great," she said. "When you talk to the vendors and they are all smiling and happy, you know you have a successful festival."
She said the festival has kept its "small-town feel" over the years.
"I love the community atmosphere of the festival and having it in the park keeps it a small family festival," she said.