Woodleaf folks gather to tout all things tomato

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Steve Huffman
WOODLEAF ó They came, they saw, they celebrated the tomato.
Along the way they also went for a jog, chowed down with plenty of good eats, danced and sang, held a parade and generally had the kind of fun that can only be found as a small, rural community embraces its heritage.
The location and the celebration was Woodleaf’s Tomato Festival, an annual event held on the grounds of Unity Presbyterian Church.
“Every year seems to get a little better,” said Teresa Athey, who sold an assortment of items ó from cakes and quart jars of vegetable soup to quilts ó under a canopy tent there on the church grounds.
Athey was accompanied by her husband, Carl, as well as an assortment of family and friends who seemed to enjoy the conversation as much as they did making a dollar or two. Athey said this marks the third year they’ve participated in the Tomato Festival.
“We come for the entertainment and to see people we haven’t seen in years,” she said. “It’s a good program. They do a nice job.”
As Athey spoke, Susan Wetmore sang on a nearby stage, doing a rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee” that would have made both Janis Joplin and Kris Kristofferson proud.
Jean Skelton and her son, Tony, traveled from Salisbury for the festival. Skelton said she comes every year, always having a good time with the entertainment as well as taking a gander at the various crafts and food items offered for sale.
“This is a great festival,” she said. “It’s very family-oriented.”
By the time Skelton spoke, entertainment on the festival’s stage had shifted to the winner of the Miss Tomato Festival contest. The competition consisted of men ó not likely to send shivers down the spine of Brad Pitt ó dressed as women.
It was a contest not for the weak of stomach.
“That’s a good reason to quit eating tomatoes, ain’t it?” the competition’s emcee announced as he crowned the … er … winner.
More serious competitions included Little Tommy Toe, Little Miss Mater and Little Mater Sprout, which allowed proud parents the opportunity to showcase their young children for all the world to see.
A 5-kilometer race, a fun run and a walk sponsored by the Rowan Runners got the day’s festival off to a healthy start.
Cleveland’s Jean Barlow was at the festival, selling hand-painted items she creates as part of her business, Painted Glass Designs. Barlow said Saturday marked the second year she’d sold at the festival.
She said Saturday’s weather was perfect ó warm, but not overly hot ó and the crowd made the endeavor worth her while.
“I’ve had a real good day,” Barlow said when asked about her sales.
Michael Cannon traveled from his home near Lumberton to sell a variety of sports collectibles. Cannon has relatives in Woodleaf, which is why he said he came.
He sells baseball and football cards as well as a variety of sports figurines.
Cannon is a teacher and deals with sports collectibles primarily as a hobby. He said he was glad he came Saturday.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Cannon said. “I’ve talked to a lot of kids. There’s been a right fair amount of interest in what I’ve got for sale.”
Proceeds from the festival benefit the Woodleaf community and Unity Presbyterian Church.