When it comes to produce, the Garden State is best known for its tomatoes. But those big boys better step aside on Saturday, when the West Cape May Business Association will celebrate its 21st annual Strawberry Festival from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Wilbraham Park. The popular day-long party hails everything that’s fresh, juicy and tasty about springtime’s first fruit.
“Every booth has something strawberry-related — strawberry ice cream, strawberry cookies, strawberry muffins ... empanadas,” says Sharon Flanagan, owner of the Bird House of Cape May and a longtime vendor.
More than 100 booths will feature original arts and crafts, handmade soaps and pottery, T-shirts and jewelry, apparel and wine, all with a strawberry theme. The menu will range from hot dogs and scallop kebabs to pulled pork, crab cakes and barbecued chicken — with strawberry barbecue sauce! There will even be strawberry-flavored soda from the Cape May Soda Company.
The dessert of the day, of course, will be strawberry shortcake, prepared and served by students of the Cape May Technical School’s culinary department. A portion of proceeds from the booth will fund their after-prom party.
The festival “is kind of the kickoff to summer and a tradition for a lot of families in West Cape May,” says Doug Marandino, owner with his wife Andriana of the Cape May Honey Farm. The farm’s special strawberry honey, made once a year just for the festival has “a little bit of a cult following, with people calling us ahead of time with pre-orders.”
A sister event to West Cape May’s popular Lima Bean Festival, held every fall, the Strawberry Festival has been a community staple since 1998. Both of the events, which bracket the summer season, pay homage to the community’s agricultural roots.
A raffle benefits a scholarship program for Technical School students, said innkeeper Doug Carnes, owner of the Wilbraham Mansion; the winner receives a four-year scholarship with a $1,000 grant for the first year and $500 for the next three years. The top raffle prize features a two-night stay for two at the 1840 Wilbraham Mansion in Cape May, a massage for two at the Well Center for Massage and dinner for two at the Black Duck restaurant.
Entertainment will be ongoing all day starting at 9 a.m. with the Caribbean rhythms of Bill the Steel Drum Guy, Blondage takes over at 11 a.m. with covers of songs from artists like Patsy Cline to Lady Gaga; then at 1 p.m., folk-rockers Five Times Famous take the stage. They’re followed at 3:15 p.m. by the jazz-blues sounds of the Geno White Trio. Young singing phenomenon Angelina Bella will entertain throughout the day.
The high point of the festivities is the crowning of the Strawberry King and Queen. Aspiring royals can simply drop their names in a ballot box; the winners will be chosen at random at 3 p.m. “The kids really get a kick out of it,” says Flanagan, adding with a laugh, “We give them a crown long enough to take the pictures.”
Other attractions include appearances by musician and environmentalist Karen Buckley, known as the Turtlesinger, with her live turtle show and wildlife rehabilitator and educator Steve Serwatka of New Jersey Nature, who usually brings along his boa constrictor.
Silkscreen artist Susan Lotozo of the Flying Fish Studio said the Strawberry Festival is a highlight of her year. “It’s June. People are happy to be outside, and here are all the neighbors you haven’t seen in the wintertime. I just love the community aspect of it.”
Carnes estimates that more than 10,000 people gather each year for the festival. As former president of the Business Association and a supporter of the Technical School, his favorite part of the event may come later, when he and his colleagues write a check for the school’s scholarship fund. “It’s a nice deal for the school and the students,” he says.
The rain date is Sunday, June 2, but all involved are hoping for fair skies. “It’ll go off as planned if it’s a little cloudy,” says Marandino, “but we have our fingers crossed for sun.”