Woodleaf Tomato Festival celebrates 125 years of summer harvest

Published 12:10 am Sunday, August 21, 2022

Hundreds of attendees gathered at Unity Presbyterian Church on Saturday with a shiny, red crop in mind.

As most of Rowan County’s favored annual events, this was the first time it had returned in two years due to COVID-19 at the same church that has been on Woodleaf Barber Road for 175 years. The stage schedule was packed for the day as over 50 vendors of homemade crafts, collectibles and canned goods lined the area of the church. West Rowan FFA sold the Southern staple of tomato sandwiches all day and also brought in Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets.

The Lyerly Volunteer Honor Guard commenced the event at 9 a.m., followed by a performance by West Rowan High School cheerleaders and the Falcon drum line. The parade followed in front of the church and featured fire trucks from Woodleaf Fire Department.

Businesses such as Ronin Kickboxing and Pure Martial Art held demonstrations and displayed a range of skills held by their students.

A brief intermission of Pete Bogle and Reid Evans juggling entertained the crowd using mini-chainsaws, fire batons and knives. They also asked volunteers to join them in front of the stage to learn juggling or to stand between the two performers as they tossed bowling pins back and forth at each other. The duo met at West Rowan High School and now perform their impressive feats for the community.

As the morning stage schedule continued, festival goers browsed the silent auction table to look over items that included an Amish buggy seat, vintage baby carriages, antique toys, train models and even an elliptical workout machine. According to the church, all inventory is donated and the proceeds are donated to local organizations, including teaching associations, food nonprofits and missionary trips.

Throughout the day, a tractor hitched to a flatbed offered hay rides for $1 and constantly circled the church.

Jean Barlow, who is the artist behind Painted Glass Designs at the Salisbury Farmers Market, said this was her 10th year returning at the festival. At her booth, college-themed glassware was 50% off for the event. All items were hand-painted and baked for lasting durability.

Other creative designs of jewelry and yarn art goods showcased the beauty of local farms and businesses, just as the tomato festival celebrated homegrown farm-to-table crops.

“This was my first year here and I can tell you that I will be back again because I had the best time,” said Mary Clark, a Woodleaf native who had never taken part in it before. “I haven’t enjoyed myself like this in a long time.”

One of the most popular attractions of the annual event was the Dress Like a Tomato contest featuring children up to the age 6 in their best attire of the ruby crop. First place winners included Jacksyn and Ellory Whitley, who sported a tomato superhero costume, and Gabriel Oliver with tomato overalls and a matching beret. Each participant received a medal as a prize.