There’s nothing like ushering in autumn with a decades-old town tradition that celebrates the harvest.
The week-long Milton Harvest Festival will continue through Sunday.
Originating in 1977 as the Tomato Harvest Festival, the event has continued to expand and improve each year.
Today at 7 p.m., the annual Harvest Pops Concert will again be held at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church, 102 Lower Market St. Tickets are $8 for adults, and $5 for children.
Perhaps the most popular traditions of the week-long festival will be happening this Saturday. According to festival chair Sue Rearick, more than 125 arts and crafts vendors will set up along Broadway and Bound Avenue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The arts and crafts sale was also held the prior Saturday, which Rearick said also included more arts, crafts and food vendors than they have typically had in past years. Vendors can be added through Saturday morning.
Also on Saturday will be a 5K race at 9:30 a.m. (registration is from 7:30 to 9 a.m.), starting at the municipal building at 2 Filbert St. The Milton Model Train Museum on the third floor of the Milton Moose No. 171 building, 139 S. Front St., will be open with free admission from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 3 to 5 p.m.
The Harvest Festival Parade – a longstanding beloved tradition – will begin at 1 p.m. and travel along Front Street. The parade's history can be traced back to 1978, when Hector Boiardi served as the grand marshal. The Tomato Harvest Festival was established especially in association with Boiardi and the Chef Boyardee plant in Milton.
Rearick said the parade continues to be the most popular event of the week.
Thousands descend upon Milton each year to celebrate this popular festival, and Rearick said what she enjoys most about being a part of the event is “the people”.
She grew up in Milton, and moved away for 15 years when she married her husband, who was a Marine. They returned to Milton in 1994, and she said it felt great to come home. The festival each year gives her and many others an opportunity to meet up with friends and family they haven’t seen in a while.
That goes for the many returning vendors, as well, who see the festival as a reunion with people they consider to be more than customers.
Rearick said many of the vendors have been a part of the festival since day one, and that includes Harry and Grace Jordan, of Kissimmee. Since the 1970s, the couple has set up their food stand at various carnivals, fairs and festivals throughout the region, selling items including funnel cakes, corn dogs, fried dough, orangeade and lemonade.
Grace said she has a special love for the Milton Harvest Festival.
“Everyone there is so nice,” she said. While in some carnivals, “you’re just a vendor”, she added, “Up there, you’re friends.”
She said there are people who often stop by to ask about their health, how they’re doing with their stand, and if they need anything.
The atmosphere, Grace said, is “more laid back” – with a more personal and family-type atmosphere that they always like to return to.
Other events over the past week of the festival included Princess, Little Miss and Junior Miss pageants; a new event this year - a pumpkin roll contest (pumpkins were released down Academy Avenue on Tuesday); scarecrow patch; and a block party and spaghetti eating contest.
To close out the festival events on Sunday, Men in Harmony will present a free concert at 7 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 47 Walnut St., Milton.