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Poteet Strawberry Festival celebrates community
Social media , new ticketing system help boost attendance

5/8/2013

By Austin Rooney

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If the Poteet Strawberry Festival could be summed up in one word, it would be "community."

The festival, held in the small Texas town of Poteet, celebrated its 66th anniversary this year with three days of beautiful weather, record-breaking attendance, and as always, thousands of locally-grown strawberries from April 12-14.

Carol Rivera, the festival coordinator, said the festival owes its impressive success to the tight bond it has formed in the local community during the past 66 years.

"The festival originated to encourage growers when they had come back from war," explained Rivera. "Life is not easy for a farmer, and especially not now, but we want to do our best to encourage them and to try to hold them up and keep them in the focus while they're here."

Poteet Strawberry FestivalThe art of growing strawberries has always been a part of Rivera's life. Growing up in a rural part of Poteet, she said many of her friends and neighbors owned farms and grew strawberries, which gave her an intimate understanding of the hard work and dedication that went into growing.

"[Poteet] is a really hard-working community," said Rivera. "Growing is a really difficult profession, and we have a lot of respect for our local growers."

More than 20 years ago, Rivera said she first began volunteering at the Poteet Strawberry Festival to try to give back to her community. Seven years ago she had the opportunity to become a coordinator for the event, and said she jumped the chance.

Many of the festival's primary events remain true to its roots, including the popular Strawberry Auction. In September, many growers will begin growing their strawberries for the festival, which are not picked until April. Then, during the festival, they are judged and later auctioned off to help raise money for the growers.

This year, Rivera said the Strawberry Auction raised $47,600, a record number in the festival's history. The winning strawberries alone, grown by the Reyes family farm, took in $13,100. Rivera said 75% of the profits from the auction are given back to the growers for their benefit.

"It's a wonderful thing," said Rivera. "When our auction goes well, our growers benefit from it."

The most important record set during this year's event was the attendance, which boasted over 100,000 visitors during the three-day festival. Rivera said it was up at least 20% from the previous festival. Some credit was given to Roadhouse Tickets, a company Rivera said was used for the first time this year to help track ticket sales and keep track of online tickets and attendance by those who were given free entry.

Price of admission was $15, but online tickets were only $12.50, or $10.00 if purchased in groups. Military and children 12 and under were given free passes, and parking was free as well.

Once inside the event, attendees could enjoy a wide range of entertainment. This year, the festival included appearances from various national and local musical acts, including Ruben Ramos, Kevin Fowler, and Casey Donahew. Much of the music was brand new for the year, which Rivera explained was intentional.

"We try to always have brand new acts, so everyone is able to hear new local groups from places like San Antonio, Austin, and Corpus Christi," said Rivera.

In addition to music, the festival boasts over 100 food booths, which serve a variety of food - including, of course, many strawberry-themed dishes. This year, the festival served several brand new dishes, such as strawberry cheesecake and strawberry nachos, which Rivera added were both delicious.

For thrill-seekers attending the fair, Alamo Attractions provided more than 40 rides. Rivera said the festival has been working with Alamo for more than 20 years.

The ongoing theme of helping the community does not stop with providing affordable entertainment; Rivera said each year the festival gives out 10 four-year scholarships to attendees.

"We really want the guests to have a good time," Rivera said. "We want them to have the feel of a small town event but still enjoy large entertainment."

Rivera said she attributes the years' success to a variety of reasons, one being the increased focus on using social networking to promote the event. Though the Poteet Strawberry Festival has operated a Facebook page and a Twitter account in previous years, Rivera said this was the first year they hired an individual to run those accounts full-time, and offer promotions through them.

"I'm on Facebook myself, and I think most of the world is nowadays, and it's a great way to get info out," said Rivera. "We reached out to our guests through Facebook, and I think the result was that it was very effective."

As for other advertising, Rivera said she spent the festival's $30,000 advertising budget on a mix of billboards, bus ads, publications, visitor guides, and radio ads. Much of the advertising was not directly paid for, but rather traded. Rivera said she traded free tickets for radio time, which helped to benefit both parties.

"KCTI-AM 1450 (local radio station and sponsor) has been very good to us," said Rivera. "They understand what we're trying to do for our community and they try to help us as much as they can."

The festival is non-profit organization, run by a board of directors comprised of members of the local community, including the rotary club, who were the founding members of the festival 66 years ago. Rivera said the board of directors works hard to make things easier for the guests; this year they added credit card machines at all the gates for tickets.

The festival's primary intent is to give back to the community, said Rivera, which is why each year they give out 10 4-year scholarships to attendees.

"There's so many people in the community who benefit from the festival," said Rivera. "Once you become a part of it you take great pride in it, and it becomes part of who you are."

Rivera said she is thankful for this year's success, and is already thinking of ways to ensure next year is even more successful.

"It's something I love, and I'm proud of," said Rivera. "Really the festival was not one festival or one stage, it's the people."

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