The Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival is a bit of a misnomer. The annual festival, now 38 years old, celebrates not just the actual town's namesake berry, but rather the state's collective strawberry nation convening at a sort of fruit mecca in Ponchatoula, the otherwise sleepy Tangipahoa Parish town (and hometown of Irma Thomas).
But it's been a rough season for strawberry farmers, despite the week before and the week entering the festival when farmers are loaded with the berries, now at their seasonal peak (and the potential raison d'etre for the fest itself: survival). Low prices and small early harvests took a toll on the season farmers sold what they could before the brutal freeze, leaving a gap before spring, and now, as the crop rolls in and time is money, farmers may be on harder times if prices fall lower than $10 or $12 a flat.
If there ever was a time to thank your farmers for our often-taken-for-granted plump, red saviors, now is the time. (The T-P says the festival rakes in $33 million for the parish.)
You'll find them in daquiris, shortcakes and barbecue glaze, and chocolate-covered and deep fried. If you're lucky, you'll find it in more. (Not counting the soul-hugging Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager. Also, Jell-O shots.)
One vendor at yesterday evening's Crescent City Farmers Market in Mid-City was selling selling flats of the Ponchatoula stuff. She says she'll be at the festival all weekend. Not just at one stand, but several.