Ponchatoula civic groups and businesses are preparing for a busy Saturday with the much-anticipated return of the Julian Dufreche Strawberry Day in the Park.

Also expected to return Saturday, but much less welcomed, is heavy rain.

The Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival Board members and their associates discussed the situation in their regular meeting Wednesday. At 8 p.m., board member Donald Lanier said the meeting had ended and the decision they reached is: “We’re doing this rain or shine.”

Saturday’s event, usually a preliminary to the Strawberry Festival, is being envisioned as a scaled-back version of the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, which was cancelled this year and last year due to the pandemic.

Plans include a combination of some traditional Strawberry Day activities and some Strawberry Festival traditions. Among them are the annual judging and auctioning of the most beautiful flats of berries grown by local farmers plus a strawberry bake-off, a wings cook-off, official poster sales and souvenirs, all at Memorial Park.

Instead of three days of live music and entertainment, Saturday’s two bands are the Dominoes from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and Dirty Works from 3 until 6 p.m., both performing on a stage in the northwest quadrant of Memorial Park.

Plans are for Farmers’ Row – local farmers selling their homegrown strawberries and homemade strawberry products – to be set up in the southwest quadrant of the park where the festival’s carnival rides are traditionally located. No carnival rides or games are planned for Saturday’s festivities.

Nat Garofalo, who traditionally coordinates the strawberry judging and auction, has lined up Annie Coco, Sal Perise and Sandra Benjamin to serve as judges. Lanier has volunteered to be the auctioneer after the death of the long-time auctioneer.

Garofalo said farmers should bring their best flats to the Packing Shed, the festival headquarters building at the center of Memorial Park, by 11:30 a.m. Judging will take place at noon with the auction of the prize berries at 2 p.m. on the stage.

Instead of Strawberry Day’s annual holey board tournament, the traditional Strawberry Festival sack races and egg tosses will take place in front of the stage.

A children’s parade is scheduled to start Saturday at 9 a.m. in the 100 block of Oak Street and travel from Toula Berry Sweets ice cream shop to Kiwanis Park and back. Ages 17 and under with parental chaperons are invited to enter their strawberry-theme decorated wagons, bikes, strollers and golf carts.

In the center of Downtown Ponchatoula, the Country Market will have vendors outside from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, according to the Ponchatoula Chamber of Commerce. The band Southbound 55 will provide live music.

See the Community Calendar on A6 for more information.

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