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COVID-19 can’t cancel memories

COVID-19 can’t cancel memories

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Tomato Festival

The center tent is always buzzing with activity at the Hanover Tomato Festival as was evident last year. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), this year’s event, which would have been the 42nd, was canceled.

MECHANICSVILLE – While 2020 will go down in history as one of the worst years in our nation, the pandemic that started the decline in the United States also struck Hanover County when the Hanover Tomato Festival was canceled.

The festival, which was started in 1978 by the Black Creek Volunteer Fire Department, fell victim to the coronavirus (COVID-19) when the Hanover County Parks and Recreation Department faced the tough decision of canceling this year’s event. This was a first in the event’s 42-year history.

Organizers announced on May 28 that the safety of the community is their top priority. They also assured Hanoverians and our neighbors that they remain committed to doing their part to protect all those involved with all Parks and Rec activities, and that includes those attending, the vendors, volunteers and staff.

Marcy G. Durrer, recreation program director, speaking on behalf of Director Greg Sager, said Parks and Rec said it was a “difficult decision to cancel the Hanover Tomato Festival, which was scheduled for July 10 and 11.”

Thousands turn out every year for the festival, which has grown to include Friday evening events and competitions, at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville.

Saturday is easily the main attraction with vendors, games, contests, entertainment and, of course, the star: the Hanover Tomato. The center booth always hosts the fruit of the weekend.

Let’s go back 42 years to an idea that sparked what has become Mechanicsville’s No. 1 event (the Mechanicsville Rotary/Ruritan Christmas parade runs a close second).

In need of funds for equipment and training, the Black Creek Volunteer Fire Department sponsored a festival at the station on McClellan Road.

At that time, President Larry Sutton and Chief Oscar Watson joined forces to head up the festival. Once everyone agreed to hold a festival, the next issue was: What will the theme be?

BCVFD members talked about the Camptown Races in Ashland and the Oyster Festival in Urbanna, so they knew they wanted a theme significant to Hanover County.

What was in Hanover County? Vegetables -- lots and lots of vegetables.

And what vegetable was Hanover County especially known for? The Hanover Tomato, of course.

With a theme in place, Sutton, Watson and the other VFD members organized a Fireman’s Parade, as well as contests – and that included eating tomatoes. About 300 people showed up that first year.

Local homemakers were given an opportunity to show off their skills with various dishes – and plenty of samples for attendees to taste.

Growth was fast becoming an issue, so the festival moved to Battlefield Park Elementary School in 1999. Arts and crafts vendors joined too.

The popularity of the annual event continued to expand, so another move became necessary. Also needed was additional manpower to handle the ever-increasing festival. That’s when Hanover Parks and Rec stepped in to help.

In 2008, Pole Green Park opened and a new home was found. The next year, one of the largest turnouts ever – 42,000 – filled the grounds.

Sadly, two of the most important men involved with the festival have passed away. Oscar Watson died in 2012 and Robby Dodd, whose farm supplied the tomatoes, followed in 2017.

The Saturday morning of the festival always started with Watson heading to Dodd’s farm to get the bushels of that famous Hanover Tomato.

Don’t dismay: there’s always next year – and a reason to celebrate Hanover County’s favorite fruit.

To stay up-to-date with the 2021 Hanover Tomato Festival, visit www.hanovertomatofestival.com.

For more information, email hanovertomatofestival@hanovercounty.gov or call 804-365-7150.

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