Woodleaf celebrates tomatoes

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 22, 2011

By Karissa Minn
WOODLEAF — Brantley Perrell looked so cute, you could just eat him up.
The 14-month-old was disguised as a plump, ripe tomato Saturday for the Woodleaf Tomato Festival, where he won the Lil’ Mater Sprout pageant.
“My mother made the costume,” said Perrell’s grandmother, Cleveland resident Annette Hipp. “This is exciting. His great-grandmother will be happy.”
As a child, Hipp said, she attended Unity Presbyterian Church along with her parents and grandparents.
That church has sponsored the festival for the past four years.
The Woodleaf Tomato Festival originally began in the 1980s but was discontinued after several years. Unity Presbyterian Church revived it in 2007, and it’s been growing each August since then, said member Patti Safrit.
“You get the chance to see folks you haven’t seen since the last tomato festival,” Safrit said. Leaning forward, she added, “The secret is to come every year.”
Woodleaf resident Meghan Moore said her family has done just that for the past four years.
“This is pretty much the only thing that happens in Woodleaf,” Moore said. “It’s a day of family fun.”
Her daughter, Grayce, won the Lil’ Miss Mater pageant this year. The 3-year-old wore a bright red sundress with green trim and red hair ribbons to match.
Two-year-old Cade Brooks earned this year’s Lil’ Tommy Toe crown, which he promptly took off his head and held by the side of his denim overalls.
Not everyone who came to the festival was from the Woodleaf area, or even Rowan County.
“I’m from Raleigh, but I grew up in Woodleaf,” said Jillian Huff. “We came to check out the children’s activities.”
Her daughter, 4-year old Emory Huff, was one of many children to get a smiling tomato painted on her cheek.
Earlier that morning, a parade on Woodleaf Barber Road featured tractors belonging to local farmers.
Several booths on the church grounds sold crafts, jewelry, canned preserves, baked goods and — of course — fresh produce.
Salisbury resident Sarah Hill said she and her husband George visited the tomato festival for the first time Saturday.
“We saw the pictures in the paper, and we thought it would be a neat way to spend a Saturday,” she said. “I know a lot of people in this area but had never been before.”
She and George both said they were looking forward to seeing the Miss Tomato Queen contestants all dressed up.
Just a few minutes later, the three men vying for the title lined up onstage in their finest dresses, wigs and accessories.
Crowned as the winner was Michael Shoemaker, of Woodleaf, a first-time entrant wearing a black and red dress.
Carl Moore, under the name “Mrs. Doubt If She’ll Fire,” got dolled up this year for the third time to defend his title as queen.
“This is the only way I can help raise money,” Moore said. “I can’t give money, but I can dress up and look like an idiot.”
Phil Hagen, pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church, entered as the third cross-dressing pageant contestant.
Together, the men raised $1,524.50 for the church’s new fellowship hall, which Hagen said will serve as a community center.
“We see ourselves as an outreach oriented church,” Hagen said. “The fellowship hall will be for the church members and also for the community.”
The building is almost complete, he said, and it should be open sometime this fall.
Hagen said Saturday’s festival was made possible by the volunteer efforts of nearly the entire church congregation.
“This is a church with 95-100 people in worship, so most of the people worshipping Sunday morning are here helping,” he said. “We all like to have fun and eat ‘maters.’ ”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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