How to celebrate a fruit: The Ohio Pawpaw Festival

by Weiler Harmon

All across America, there are festivals dedicated to particular foods. Minnesota has the Potato Days Festival, Alabama is home to the Peanut Festival, last month Columbus hosted Bacon Fest, and this past weekend in Albany a celebration of the Pawpaw fruit took place for the 19th consecutive year.

But the Ohio Pawpaw Festival does more than celebrate a fruit.

The Pawpaw Festival unites the community while simultaneously creating a new one. Both are completely inclusive.

“I think what I love most about it is that it’s like an Athens community festival,” said Hannah Morgan, a poster and art print vendor who has attended the festival every year since it began.

“It’s almost like if you live in Athens, you are at this festival,” Morgan said. “People that I grew up with and have since moved away always come back for this. It’s a reunion.”

But Pawpaw is not just for locals. Much like the pawpaw fruit itself, visitors come from several surrounding states to experience pawpaw products including the famous pawpaw beer.

Although, pawpaw products are not for everyone. No need to worry, the festival has it covered.

This year Pawpaw fest hosted 20 different food/non-alcoholic drink vendors, who curated anything from smoothies to coffee or New York style pizza to tabouli. Nine breweries were also in attendance, all with some sort of Pawpaw brew on tap to compliment their other flavors.

Vendors selling anything from handmade utensils to tie-dye shirts lined the paths of the festival grounds alongside numerous educational and environmental booths.

“I honestly really like a lot of the informational booths,” Morgan said. “There’s always something fun going on in there like ‘How to cook with pawpaw’ or ‘Here we’re showing you all of these different species of butterflies.’ There’s always so much stuff to do and it just keeps growing.”

The people of Pawpaw tend to focus heavily on taking care of the environment.

“Everybody is really eco-minded, they’re into the same type of values that I feel are important,” explained Katie Morris who was camping at the festival grounds for her fifth straight year.

“You just hear buzz around the whole place,” Morris stated. “It’s just nice to be in a huge group of like-minded people”

Live music is arguably the largest activity at the Pawpaw Fest. Over the span of the three day festival, over 20 acts took to the stage, including bands of several different genres, belly dancers, and even a High School marching band from Alexander, OH. And of course, the number one competitive pawpaw eater in the whole state of Ohio was determined on Saturday in the Pawpaw Eating Contest.

Pawpaw offers a welcoming environment where everyone can discuss political issues, listen to good music, eat good food and enjoy all of the other family-friendly activities.

At the Pawpaw Festival, I did not see a single person on their phone, instead people spoke face-to-face. People were talking, but they were also listening. And best of all everyone was sharing.

In a way, the Ohio Pawpaw Festival reminded me of a local Woodstock/block party/state fair. On the festival grounds, the citizens of Pawpaw display behaviors, values, and attitudes that are seldom observed in modern day America.

“My favorite thing about the festival probably the vibe of the people,” said Morris. “Everybody has fun, everybody is really good to each other. You see really neat things like kids helping each other, or they see a random piece of trash and pick it up. That totally warms my heart and makes me happy. It makes believe there’s hope.”

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