Ohio Pawpaw FestivalSM
Since 1999, Chris Chmiel of Integration Acres has been working with great folks in his local community to help educate and celebrate the pawpaw!
The cornerstones of the festival have been the best pawpaw competition, the pawpaw cook-off and the pawpaw eating contest. Over the years, the event has expanded to include educational workshops, quality live music, talented artisans selling their wares, kids’ games and activities, food vendors and, of course, the pawpaw beer garden.
Chris, along with members of the Albany Business & Community Development committee and the Albany Riding Club, organized and sponsored a one-day festival on Sunday, October 10, 1999. It rained for most of the day, but the event was a success and a tradition was born. Highlights included judges from Better Homes and Garden magazines, The Washington Post and the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A year later, Chris again worked with a few members of the Albany Riding Club to host another one-day event on Saturday, September 16, 2000. Highlights from this year’s event included a grant from the Ohio Arts Council for heritage demonstrations. Judges for the festival included Sue Dawson, food editor for the Columbus Dispatch.
By 2001, the Ohio Pawpaw Festival moved to its current location at Lake Snowden, with the newly created Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association (OPGA) as its fiscal agent. This year’s event was held just days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Festival-goers were able to talk and heal under sunny, blue skies. Judges included Jenny Pavlasek of Ohio Magazine.
The first two-day Ohio Pawpaw Festival debuted in 2002. Again we were blessed with wonderful weather. Judges included John Mara of WSAZ News, Leslie Lilly of The Foundation of Appalachia Ohio and Ted Lee, freelance food writer for The New York Times. In 2003, judges included Fred Dailey, Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Suzanne Martinson, Food Writer from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Amy Viny, a food writer from the Cleveland area.
Hurricane Ivan dumped five inches of rain on Athens County the day before the 2004 festival. High water prevented travel into the area, greatly diminishing attendance. This year’s judges included Ohio State House Representative Jimmy Stewart, sponsor of a bill to make the pawpaw the official state fruit of Ohio. In 2005, Ohio food writer and author Mary Lou Suszko served as a judge.
The 8th Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival in 2006 saw a brief change in management when Snowville Creamery took the lead role as organizer and major sponsor. This year the Pawpaw Green Woman logo took center stage as the face of this memorable event. This year saw 15 kegs of pawpaw wheat beer consumed in two days!
In 2007, Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Area program became the chief sponsor of the festival. We were pleased to offer a musical and audio CD with pawpaw testimonials and selections from all the bands. By 2008 the festival had added the Pawpaw Double Nickel Bike Ride and the Ohio Country Fair tent, which offered a broad array of educational workshops. We also collaborated with Ohio University’s Office of Sustainability to create a shuttle service to and from Athens, allowing more college students to attend the festival.
The 2009 festival was the best to date, with record attendance and appearances by Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips and Ohio Sen. Jimmy Stewart. Mr. Stewart has supported the festival from the get-go, and he was on hand to present Chris Chmiel with the official proclamation designating the pawpaw as the state native fruit of Ohio. (Earlier in 2009, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland signed a bill making it so!) Eighteen kegs of pawpaw wheat beer disappeared before nightfall, and the expanded ‘Kids Zone’ kept families busy all day.
By 2010, the festival grew into a three-day affair, with attendance trumping all previous festivals. The camping areas at Lake Snowden were booked solid both Friday and Saturday nights! And in our efforts to make the festival a greener event, no disposable cups were sold in the ever-popular beer garden. Folks loved this year’s logo and t-shirts sold out in record time.
Check the web site in the upcoming months for details about the 2015 festival, or visit us on Facebook (Ohio Pawpaw Fest).
(The Ohio Pawpaw FestivalSM is a service mark of Chris Chmiel.)