Photos and Images by Leanne E. Smith
The Vanceboro Strawberry Festival & Rescue Day celebrates its namesake fruit, but it is also a fundraiser and outreach event for the Vanceboro Rescue Squad. The town has a population of around 1,000 people, and it is centrally located between several other Eastern NC towns, being about 26 miles from Greenville in Pitt County and 19 from Washington in Beaufort County, both to the north; 30 from Kinston in Lenoir County to the west; 30 from Bayboro in Pamlico County to the southeast; and 21 from New Bern in Craven County to the south. The entertainment artists, craft and food vendors, and organizations selling fundraiser food traveled from several of those places and more gather on the grounds of today’s Farm Life Elementary School, which has been a school site for more than 100 years.
The 2016 Strawberry Festival started Friday evening, May 6 at 6 p.m. with local youth providing the entertainment—the fourth graders from the school, a couple of church drama teams, and the concert band from West Craven High School. Events resumed Saturday morning with a parade at 10 a.m. before the center of activity shifted again to the school grounds for the rest of the day. Carnival rides occupy the southwestern edge of the lot along Mill Road, and the entertainment stage stands at the opposite end by the school gym. In between, festival goers can wander through several rows of vendors with a variety of items for sale, like jewelry, homemade soap, handbags, and of course, food. The vendors aren’t completely grouped according to wares versus food, so it’s worth walking through the rows to see where and what all of the food options are before deciding—because deciding can be difficult. Maybe the easiest solution is to eat some onsite and get a takeout, too.
As with many festivals, there are some carnival food trucks for hot dogs, funnel cakes, and ice cream. Fried fish was a recurring theme, which makes sense for Eastern North Carolina, at the very purple (think East Carolina University) Tula’s Fish & Fries truck and a booth advertising the New-Bern based business Divine Travels & Divine Travels Too. Over on Farm Life Avenue at the edge of the grounds, a line formed by a bright yellow “old fashion” ice cream trailer with a John Deere green hit-and-miss engine puttering away outside, powering the churn for vanilla, chocolate, banana, and naturally, strawberry. A “strawberry festival” must have fresh berries, too, and here, Village Creek Farms of Dover attracted a line. But this year’s festival food scene also presented options for supporting several community organizations.
At a booth with some very busy parents and leaders, Cub Scouts from Pack 58, based at Vanceboro Methodist Church, held bright lime green signs advertising $1 hotdogs and $4 funnel cakes, the latter of which could be topped with powdered sugar, chocolate syrup, and strawberry jam. They were raising funds for their annual campout, the event celebrating the scouts’ crossover from one den to the next when they need new books and supplies as they progress upward through ranks, from tiger to wolf and wolf to bear.
A couple of rows over, their older counterparts in Boy Scout Troop 97, based at Beech Grove United Methodist Church in New Bern, were aiming for the opportunity to go to the high-adventure camp Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve near Beckley, West Virginia, this summer. They made use of the strawberry theme, selling chocolate covered strawberries on sticks and flats of fresh strawberries. One of the most noticeable items was the hefty slices of pink cake with pink icing—strawberry cake—which Mary Beth Houston has been making for the scouts to sell for the last two years or so.
For strawberry shortcake, in particular, the women’s group from Vanceboro Church of God could fill that order with homemade cake and fresh strawberries—which is, really, the only way to make strawberry shortcake. With the funds, SALT, which is the acronym for Sisters Abiding in Light & Truth, the group planned to contribute to the church’s new fellowship hall floor and other projects. The U-Shoot the Rock
Basketball bake sale offered the to-be-expected cookies and cupcakes (with pink icing, nodding to the festival theme), and even candy apples. The Kinston-based group’s strawberry-themed options were strawberry shortcake parfait cups and pudding with whipped cream and strawberry topping—and the most original was the waffle cone strawberry shortcake.
Volunteers from the Deliverance Temple have been serving food at the Strawberry Festival for three years now in support of building and mission funds. Though the Temple is based in Ayden and Aurora, working at this festival was a homecoming for several of the volunteers. Margaret Jones, Horace Mitchell, and Robert Baker all attended Farm Life School. Horace and Robert were in the last graduating class in 1971, and after West Craven High School opened, Margaret went there. She grew up west of the festival grounds on Railroad Street, and she’s the one who makes the pies to sell using her grandmother Lincea Baker’s recipes.
The VFW post #11119 had some of the longest lines mid-day Saturday for their BBQ chicken and pork plates, and people stood in clusters nearby eating from the plates. Proceeds fund the VFW mission of supporting veterans and their families—but locally, they also support the Boy Scouts and fund scholarships, among other efforts. “Beyond the building maintenance,” VFW member H.T. Morris explained, “if we make any money, it doesn’t stay in the bank. It goes back to the community.”