By Christine Bryant
Once known as the “Tomato Fair,” the Tomato Festival will celebrate its 50th birthday this year – marking five decades worth of community and celebration of the commercial tomato.
This year’s event will take place Aug. 14-15 at Huber Park – nearly 50 years after the idea for the event first surfaced when a plaque was installed in front of the Reynoldsburg Board of Education building.
“The plaque recognized local horticulturist Alexander W. Livingston for the first known commercial variety of the tomato, his ‘Paragon,’ and declaring Reynoldsburg the ‘Birthplace of the Tomato,’” said Philip Vaughn, one of the festival’s volunteers.
The first fair celebrating this was held in conjunction with the Jaycees’ July 4 celebration and the Firemen’s Jubilee, and in 1967, the Ohio House of Representatives adopted a resolution honoring the city as the birthplace of the commercial tomato and the industry that resulted.
“This provided the state of Ohio with its official beverage, tomato juice,” Vaughn said.
The Tomato Fair separated from the July 4 celebration in 1969 and became a festival, and over the years, has expanded. While for many years, the festival was held in Huber Park, it moved to Civic Park in 1988.
“During the next two decades the festival became a very large five-day event,” Vaughn said.
It included amusement rides, concessions and a two-hour parade. But in the mid 2000s, the festival was rained out two years in a row, creating a financial burden that resulted in the festival being downsized, he said.
In 2009, a new organization was formed, Reynoldsburg Festivals, Inc., to produce the annual festival. It was decided to move the festival back to its original location, Huber Park, Vaughn said.
Mike Motz, a board member and head of the Tomato Queen competition, said he and his wife, Mary, have been involved with the festival since 1976 and have seen it change over the years. It also has provided many laughs.
“The funniest event that I can remember was at Civic Park during setup when a carnie rode by in a golf kart and mooned Alyce Haden, who was then the Queen chairperson and one of the directors. She was speechless,” he said. “Phyllis Bishop and I chased them in another kart, but never caught up to see who did it. We were laughing all the way.”
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Tomato Festival, favorites such as the pizza taste-off and car show will return. The festival also will welcome new events, such as a spaghetti eating contest, hot air balloon tethered rides and additions to the beer garden like karaoke and cornhole. A 50th anniversary commemorative souvenir mug also will be available for purchase.
Those who visit the festival for the bands will enjoy seeing double the amount of entertainment this year, Hudson said. Performances on Saturday alone include Tim Workman, Cliff Cody, Jonalee White Trio and McGuffey Lane. The Jack is scheduled to perform on the Friday evening of the festival.
This year’s festival will take place from 4-10 p.m., Aug. 14, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 15 in Huber Park, 1520 Davidson Drive. For information, go to reynoldsburgtomatofestival.org.