Hannah Rice and Jessica Presser stayed busy selling buckets of fresh strawberries during the 16th annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival on May 19. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

For many years now, strawberries and Unicoi County have gone hand in hand, creating a frenzy of excitement each year when the bright red berries are in season. On Saturday, May 19, the Town of Unicoi once again celebrated its love for all things strawberry with the 16th annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival held outside of Unicoi Elementary School.

“For 50 years, maybe more than that, folks have been coming to this area to get strawberries … it goes that far back,” said Johnny Lynch, Town of Unicoi mayor. “I think everything has gone really well this year. The biggest thing is everyone has gotten to get together and old friends get to get together again. That’s what these festivals are all about.”

Lynch noted the increase in vendors at the festival this year; they were selling a wide array of handmade, artisan products. He also said, despite a few intermittent droplets of rain, he was very pleased with this year’s turnout.

Aside from the multitude of arts and crafts vendors, several food vendors could be found selling hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, barbecue, and, of course, an array of sweets such as strawberry shortcake, strawberry sundaes, chocolate covered strawberries and more.

“That’s what is unique about it. We have kept the old-timey flavor of a festival by having local groups and local talent perform and the food vendors are all churches and nonprofits,” said Lynch. “It gives them an opportunity to raise funds for their particular organizations.”

This year’s festival included a Miss Strawberry Pageant, cake walks, and performances by the bands Turkey Creek, Wayne Keplinger & Friends and Rockingham Road.

There was also a recipe contest sponsored by the Mountain Harvest Kitchen where Holly Clark won first place for a strawberry flan recipe. Gloria Clark won second place for a strawberry dream cake and Grynd Staff won third place for strawberry dumplings.

The main vendor attraction was, of course, the Scott’s Farm strawberry stand, which stayed covered up with business throughout the day as customers happily walked away with their buckets of strawberries.

Scott’s Farms was originally started by Wayne Scott in 1959 after he retired as a school teacher to pursue farming full time. Since Wayne Scott’s passing in 2008, two of his five sons now own and operate the farm.

“I grew up on the farm and I went to school at Virginia Tech and was gone for a few years, but I came back. I always knew I’d farm in some capacity,” said Steve Scott, who now runs the farm with his brother, David.

The farm continues to remain a family affair, with Scott’s two sons now joining the efforts to keep it a success. Along with strawberries and tomatoes, which are their major crops, the farm also sells green beans, sweet corn and a variety of other vegetables at their market in the Town of Unicoi.

“There are a few smaller farms on the river, but around here we are probably the biggest ones left,” said Scott  “My mother and father worked really hard to build this farm and we’re lucky to have had the opportunity to do what we’ve done. Next year, the farm will have been in business for 60 years. I’m just trying to keep it going.”

Lynch said thanks to individuals such as the Scotts, the Unicoi area has established a reputation as an agricultural entity, which has lead to the creation of many agricultural-related jobs over the years.

“We had some individuals that were entrepreneurial in nature and they started small. I remember when Wayne Scott was my agriculture teacher in high school,” Lynch said.

To this day, Lynch said he still recalls the small strawberry patch that Scott started out with behind his house and how it has now developed into one of the most well-known businesses in the area.

“He was a very important member of this community and we recognize him each year by calling this festival the Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival,” Lynch said. “It has been, and continues to be, a great success.”