No seed spitting contest but plenty of watermelons at Newberry Festival – Gainesville Sun

A concession was made to COVID-19 and the fruit of honor had to be hauled in from Belle Glade but Saturday’s Newberry Watermelon Festival was a taste of freedom for a crowd seeking normalcy.
The festival was the only annual event held in Alachua County last year as the coronavirus took hold and may yet be the only one this year as these things take planning. This was the 76th straight year of the event.
“We’re not doing the seed spitting contest because I don’t think it’s prudent yet to do that even though we don’t have the mask mandate anymore,” festival President Kathryn Thomas said. “We have about 75 vendors. We had the parade, the Watermelon Queen, a dog pageant, a hog-calling contest, eating contests, a watermelon roll — we’ve got a lot.”
They also had a lot of watermelons. The festival was too early for the ripening of the local crop, so big boxes full of the juicy treat were brought in from Belle Glade.
A large tent erected by the Newberry First United Methodist Church was where the melons were sliced and eaten — plenty of people were sneaking seconds.
Several machetes were laid out on a table and Darryl Bowden, with deftness and muscle, used one to expertly hack through the rind.
“This is my first year chopping for the church but I’ve been in Newberry all my life,” Bowden said. “I’m just trying not to chop all my fingers.”
The Rev. Karen Burris, pastor of the church, said the watermelon was especially sweet and many festival patrons agreed.
But people can’t stroll around a festival on watermelon alone. Newberry’s had all the usual fair food to keep up the energy.
One booth, however, stood out. It’s not every festival that has a vendor of lobster tacos and bisque; ceviche with shrimp, scallops and grouper and steak bites.
Welcome to Le Jardin on the food block, nestled between the funnel cake and gelato trucks.
The festival for the past several years has been held around the town square of Country Way, a mixed-use development on U.S. 27 south of downtown Newberry that is still being built out.
This year’s festival had the added bonus of happening just days after the Centers for Disease Control announcement that people vaccinated for COVID-19 could safely go most places — especially outdoors — without face masks.
The move provided hope that the nation has weathered the worst of the pandemic.
“It’s a wonderful day, a beautiful day for people to come outside and get back together,” Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said.