We hadn’t been on the Lake Snowden campground for more than five minutes before my friends and I drove over a parking median and our front two tires were stuck atop a block of wood.
After a few failed attempts at moving, the five of us realized we weren’t going anywhere. It was an unideal start to the weekend, but before the panic or worry could set in, three strangers quickly ran to our aide and offered to hand-lift my car. It was a difficult task but they helped us with ease, smiling as they selflessly remedied the situation. A kindness without hesitation, it was a reflection of the character and attitude of Southern Ohio, and a perfect welcoming to the 2016 Pawpaw Festival.
A refocus of our attention allowed us to admire the beauty ahead: a picturesque view of forest and lake, a mass of tents, and a stage of live music. It was the 18th annual pawpaw festival- a celebration of a lost fruit, and a community gathering widely renowned. For three days and two nights, thousands of people came together to camp, watch bands, exhibit art, and experiment with the flavor of pawpaws.
So, what is a pawpaw?
With a creamy consistency similar to that of a mango, pawpaw’s are the largest tree fruit native to North America. According to ohiopawpawfest.com, Southern Ohio has some of the largest, most abundant pawpaw patches in the country, and the people of the region were more than happy to celebrate. The festival centered around the uncommon fruit, with weekend events that included competitions for the best pawpaw, a pawpaw cook-off, and a contest for the best pawpaw related art.
Located throughout the festival were various booths discussing environmental and sustainability issues, as well as information about the history and significance of the pawpaw fruit.
“I never even knew what a pawpaw was before I heard about this festival. It’s amazing to learn that this fruit grows so close to us, yet so many people are unaware of its existence,” said sophomore Political Science student Alex Cramer.
According to ohiopawpaw.com, the pawpaw fruit grows in 26 states across the country, though it has not been produced for commercial markets. However, many Ohio cultivators believe that commercially growing pawpaw’s would be a great success for the region, and advocated for this prospect at the festival. Arguments point out that the fruit is well adapted to the soil and climate of Ohio and can provide vast nutritional and cosmetic value to its residents.
“I think this festival is a huge opportunity for people to learn about pawpaws and realize the potential that we have in this fruit. Also, it’s a fun event for people of all ages and I think it brings the community together really well,” said junior History student Samuel Benezra.
Year after year the pawpaw festival provides information on the fruit, as well as an array of experimental foods and educational activities for community members to engage in. Not only is it a celebration of pawpaws, but it also brings recognition to the environmental and ecological movements of the area.
With a number of initiatives such as the Zero Waste tent, which aimed to avoid bringing any of the festival waste to landfills by focusing on compost and recycling, the festival embraced a green awareness. Additionally, there were various booths discussing threats to specific species of the area, such as the monarch butterfly, as well as informational tents which focused on surrounding parks and nature reserves.
As an out of state Ohio University student, it is refreshing to see such passion for environmental movements paired with vast community engagement.
With its charm and unconventional subject of focus, the pawpaw festival is both unique and representative of its area. While most of the U.S has never even heard of this obscure fruit, Southern Ohio throws a party in its honor.
Perhaps the country could learn a thing or two from these pawpaw enthusiasts.