By NATALIE MILLER
Summer means sunscreen, family and in Hanover, the annual Tomato Festival. Saturday, July 8 thousands of people came from near and far to Pole Green Park for one of Hanover’s most iconic events.
Director of Hanover County Parks and Recreation Greg Sager said 33,6000 guests attended the 39th annual Tomato Festival.
“Despite the heat, folks came out throughout the day and we have received positive comments from both spectators and vendors alike,” Sager said.
Black Creek Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Don West has been part of the Tomato Festival since he joined the department 20 years ago. West joined the department when he was 48 years old.
“I started late, and I only wish I joined sooner,” West said.
West has seen the festival grow from a quaint, 30-person affair to the highly-anticipated event it is today. Planning for the festival is a year-round process to maintain the event’s high standards.
“Every year we learn more and more and it gets better,” West said.
His one hope for the day was to sell all 435 boxes of tomatoes before the festival ended.
This goal was achieved shortly after, when the tomatoes sold out before the festival ended. Between Friday night and Saturday 218 bushels of tomatoes, or over 435 boxes, were sold.
Black Creek Volunteer Fire Department founded the Hanover Tomato Festival as a fundraiser in 1978. Back then, the festival was held at the Black Creek Volunteer Fire Department and included a parade. As the festival became more popular the event moved to Battlefield Park Elementary School, and to Pole Green park in 1998.
Today the event annually attracts tens of thousands of guests from Hanover and beyond to celebrate the Hanover tomato.
Over 200 vendors set up shop at Pole Green Park Saturday. Some came prepared for the sun and heat with fans and free water bottles for guests.
Local vendors represented area businesses, local creators and familiar political names. Groups like the Hanover County Republican Party, Hanover Democratic Committee, and the Virginia Flaggers all had space to promote themselves at the festival.
Local churches like Meadowbridge Seventh-day Adventist Church and Rural Point Baptist Church were well-represented alongside other vendors.
Dog lovers and their pets rejoiced at the sight of several canine-friendly stands full of treats and petwear. The Friends of Hanover Dog Parks set up doggie pools for dogs to cool-off in and try on life vests for sale. Many vendors had water bowls for the leashed dogs to get a drink on the hot day.
The event even attracted some out-of-town entrepreneurs to Hanover. Spiral Light Productions artist David Hufstetler, who goes by Grasshopper, drove with his partner Tristan Nutter, or Dandy Lion, from their home in West Virginia to sell his tie-dyed clothing at the Tomato Festival.
Grasshopper started tie dying clothes in the late 80s when he worked for the Grateful Dead’s trash crew in northern California. At the time, tie dye was popular with groups like Dead Heads and artists.
“We didn’t break into the mainstream until the early 90s when tie dye became more popular,” Grasshopper said.
During his time in California Grasshopper met Jerry Garcia and enjoyed years of live music. He and Nutter met in Las Vegas and lived in Los Angeles before moving to West Virginia to start a business.
Nutter grew up in Richmond and said she was familiar with a lot of the local events. Spiral Light Productions enjoyed a steady stream of customers during their first year selling tie dye at the Tomato Festival.
“I knew the Hanover Tomato Festival is definitely something people look forward to and it was around when I was a kid,” Nutter said.
To one side of the field food vendors fed festival favorites and tomato-themed dishes to nearly-constant lines of guests. Carytown Burgers & Fries’ food truck was lined up with vendors like Rosemary’s, which sold fried green Hanover tomatoes and tomato pie. Simply Street Food offered fried green tomato po’boys, and 7C’s Seafood had Caprese salad and Hanover tomato salsa.
The day started with a performance by the Hanover Concert Band at 9 a.m. followed by a day of music sponsored by the E.J. Wade Foundation.
Kids and kids-at-heart hung out at the MaterFUN Zone to check out the rides, games and crafts. Dynamo Soccer Club painted faces and Bricks 4 Kidz had a Lego table for young builders. Kids took turns on festival rides and brave souls attempted to make it to the top of the climbing wall.
Nearby, people got up close with ducks and ponies at the Falling Pines Farm petting zoo. Kids also pet calves over at Homestead Creamery, Inc.’s booth and tried their product samples.
“Everyone is looking forward to next year and a big celebration at the 40th Hanover Tomato Festival,” Sager said after the festival.