Traditions of Ponchatoula’s Strawberry Festival
Published 10:30 am Sunday, March 19, 2023
By Cristie Ann Addison
To understand the traditions of the Strawberry Festival, one must understand its history. At the turn of the 20th Century, Ponchatoula transformed from a lumber industry to farming, becoming one of the country’s top Strawberry producers. In 1968, newly elected councilman Dr. Charles H. Gideon wanted to help the town of Ponchatoula with economic growth. With business growth being at an all-time low, he tried to find a way that would not only help businesses but also help with the depleting spirit of the townspeople of Ponchatoula.
Hammond, a neighboring town of Ponchatoula, was known as the”Strawberry Capital of Louisiana” at the time. Dr. Gideon, knowing how Strawberry production was significant in the area, wanted to do some digging. After his research, he discovered that Hammond only shipped 17 carloads of strawberries, compared to Ponchatoula’s 194 carloads of Strawberries. Surprised, Dr. Gideon decided that the title of “Strawberry Capital of Louisiana” should rightfully go to the town of Ponchatoula. After a few failed attempts to transfer the title, he ultimately got the council to pass the “Strawberry Capital of Louisiana” title to Ponchatoula, giving the much-needed spirit back to the townspeople.
In April 1971, the Jaycees and the Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce partnered to do something that would help the strawberry farmers and the community. With only a $500 budget and help from some locals, they decided to do the very first Strawberry Festival. In April of 1972, this Festival, which only started with 11 booths, and a 65-unit parade that drew 15,000 people in two days, has grown into one of the largest festivals, second to Mardi Gras. With its many vendors, live entertainment on multiple stages, 10k, a beauty pageant, strawberry parade, rides, and more, it has attracted 300,000 people from all over the country to Ponchatoula annually.
Not only does this Festival help local farmers, but it also helps the businesses in the area. J Rucker’s House of Soul, Paul’s Café, Toula Title, and Trail End’s Antiques are some of the many merchants that not only get exposure, but people get to enjoy their food, services, and antiques during the Festival, which helps increase revenue.
The Strawberry Festival has helped the community grow, putting Ponchatoula on the map and helping local farmers increase production and revenue. With the help of their volunteers, the Strawberry Festival Board works endlessly to put on this vast Festival so everyone can enjoy this incredible event.
This Festival is a three-day event in April, kicking off traditionally with their Strawberry Festival Parade in downtown Ponchatoula. Head to Memorial Park to enjoy the rides, strawberry eating contest, egg toss, pageant, music, vendors and more. And don’t forget to purchase their famous Strawberry Posters. Memorial park is located at 301 North Sixth Street, Ponchatoula, LA 70454. The fun begins April 14-16.
What started as a dream to help the community, a vision, and a team effort has become an annual tradition in Louisiana. Strawberry Festival made a name for itself that has spread throughout Louisana and the United States, and it has been a blessing since 1972 to the town of Ponchatoula.
For more information on the Strawberry Festival, go to lastrawberryfestival.com, or contact the Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce at 985-386-2536