Sustained warmth, blooming flowers, and singing birds all are welcome indicators that winter is ending in Alabama. But for me, the appearance of locally-grown strawberries – all juicy, sweet, and crimson red from skin to core – is the tastiest sign of spring. U-Pick farms are already open in south Alabama, while those in central Alabama say they open by the first week in April. Farmers markets around Birmingham and Huntsville/Madison that crank up in early April anticipate plenty of strawberries on stands. This round-up of festivals in Alabama also serves as a calendar for when peak strawberry season spreads through the Yellowhammer state.
April 8-9, Loxley
In its 34th year, the event includes nearly 200 arts and crafts vendors, a dozen food stands, carnival rides and games, an antique auto show, and musical performances. But the true star at the festival is its famous strawberry shortcake. The festival, set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., benefits Loxley Elementary School and ARC Baldwin County. Tickets are sold at the gate. Shuttles run regularly between the festival at Loxley Memorial Park and parking at the Baldwin County Board of Education Building.
April 15, Castleberry
The Conecuh County community was officially anointed the Strawberry Capital of Alabama in 1987. The free festival in downtown Castleberry includes arts and crafts vendors, and the Strawberry Shuffle 5k fun run on the festival day, set for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on West Cleveland Avenue (a block from Strawberry Street). The annual Strawberry Festival Beauty Pageant is April 8.
April 21, Hoover
Set for 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Ross Bridge Farmers Market, you’ll find freshly picked strawberries from C&J Farm in Lawleys, Ivory Leshore’s Cheesecakes, and food trucks including Eugene’s Hot Chicken and Cousin’s Maine Lobster. Music and children’s entertainment including face painting are on tap.
April 22, Calera
Last year’s turnout set records, with nearly six dozen vendors selling strawberries and other food items, as well as arts and crafts. Now in its 12th year, the Calera Strawberry Festival includes a car show, musical performances, a kid zone, and other family-oriented fun. Admission is free; the festival is set for noon to 6 p.m. at Oliver Park.
April 28-29, Berry
Founded in 1882, the name of the Fayette County town is perfect for a celebration of early-spring berries. The 13th downtown festival, centered around Berry Heritage Park, includes the usual family-oriented festival fun – bands, arts and crafts, and a food court. Saturday starts with a combined vintage car, tractor, and motorcycle “cruise-in.” The festival starts at 5 p.m. Friday; Saturday’s session is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Berry Heritage Park has a curved walking trail by magnolia trees, an enticing place to play and picnic.
April 29, Thorsby
A promotion for Chilton County’s farmers and growers, some 7,000 attended last year. Vendors sells arts, crafts, and antiques. Meet the Strawberry Queens pageant winners. A kids’ zone includes inflatables, face painting, petting zoo, circus, and other activities. Competitions include best strawberry jam or jelly, top sweet and savory recipes, a shortcake eating contest, and art exhibition for children and adults. Food vendors are asked to offer at least one item made with strawberries. Set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Richard Wood Park, admission is free.
May 5-6, Moulton
The eighth edition of the Lawrence County town’s strawberry festival, set for the Moulton Lions Club Fairground, features grownup fun like a mud volleyball tournament, one- and two-mile trail runs, and a cornhole competition. Children’s activities include a petting zoo and inflatables. Music, arts and crafts, food vendors, classic cars and trucks, and horse-and-buggy rides are just a part of the weekend’s plans. Friday’s session runs 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; it’s open Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
May 6, Cullman
First planted as a commercial crop in Cullman in 1898, strawberries are feted with a major party that draws some 24,000 people to watch national touring bands, enjoy fair-style entertainment, shop, and gorge on food made with strawberries. Blues Traveler, Parmalee, and Tim Montana lead the music lineup (Tickets for preferred seating are $25 for general admission and $75 for VIP). Mascots Mr. and Mrs. Berry pose for photos in the kids’ area. Pooches get some love during the “Doggy Pawgeant.” Stock up on strawberries at the Festhalle Marketplatz, and munch on pretzels, funnel cakes and other fare food, washed down with fresh lemonade. Alabama’s oldest strawberry festival (the 84th) includes a baking contest and a grand ball. At night, special lighting makes the town’s water tower look like a giant strawberry. The festival, at Depot Park, starts at 9 a.m. The headline band is slated to take the stage at 9 p.m.
Cover image by Chilton County Strawberry Festival