A celebration for the upcoming 2013 Florida Strawberry Festival was held in Plant City on Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Evelyn and Batista Madonia Agriculutral Center on the Florida Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds.
There, at the media preview party, Joe Newsome, the namesake of the high school in Lithia, talked about his 24 years as a Hillsborough County School Board member and his 30 years on the board of directors for the Florida Strawberry Festival. He serves on the entertainment committee responsible for bringing big-name acts to the festival.
"We book 22 acts, we do that every year," Newsome said. This year's entertainment includes Trace Adkins, Chubby Checker, Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Blake Shelton, Jim Sturr and his orchestra, Mel Tillis, Bobby Vinton and the Gaither Vocal Band.
- See 2013 Florida Strawberry Festival Headliner and Enteratinment Lineup
"I remember when the budget [for entertainment] was $400,000 and we thought that was unreal," Newsome said. Today's budget, including lights and sound, is in the neighborhood of $2 million, he added.
For Newsome, known as one of Plant City's first and longest-serving pharmacists, attendance at the festival has been a lifelong passion. The land he grew up on has since been sold to the Hillsborough County School District, which in turn has used the land for Strawberry Crest High School.
"I remember my dad would give me money to go to the Florida Strawberry Festival all day," Newsome said. "I think a ride cost a quarter then."
Newsome said he was especially proud of the $5 million Madonia Agricultural Center, in which the night's festivities were taking place, and of the two adjacent wings, or side pavilions, which open this year for the first time. (In previous years, tents were used to house the livestock.)
The complex is used during the festival to both house and present everything set to be judged, including "flowers and lambs and steers and hogs."
"It's been a long time coming," this $5 million complex, Newsome said. "We put everything we make back into the festival, and upgrading the grounds for the festival."
It takes about $5 to $6 million to run the festival, Newsome said, and that price would be much higher if it were not for the 3,000 volunteers and unpaid directors.
"It's a family organization and all those volunteers bring the community together," Newsome said.