Strawberries and cream are still one of the most-beloved parts of Pleasant Grove Strawberry Days — even though the strawberries are grown elsewhere.
Like a lot of fruit-themed Utah festivals in small towns, this 101-year-old tradition started as a way of celebrating a crop harvest. Though there are still some festivals, like Melon Days in Green River, that feature local produce, many of these festivals are a way to get everyone together when the weather’s nice, cultivate a little bit of civic pride, play some pickleball, listen to music, and ride the Scrambler on the carnival midway.
Lisa Young, chair of the Strawberry Days Association, said that the festival is one of Utah’s oldest (though Melon Days, and Brigham City’s Peach Days, have it beat by a few years). This year, Strawberry Days will run more than a week, starting with a pickleball tournament on Friday, June 10.
For Strawberry Days’ centennial anniversary last year, organizers shut down Main Street and threw a street party. Young said it was so popular, they’re bringing it back as a regular part of the festival.
“That kicks everything off, on Saturday the 11th,” she said. “We’ll have a live band, The Salamanders, and food trucks up and down the street — we’ll have nachos, drinks, desserts, you name it. And then you’ve got the park, with lots of seating. People just dance in the street, and it’s so much fun. We just shut it all down.”
Also on June 11, there will also be a car show and cruise, which usually features 80 to 100 cars and helicopter rides, Young said.
The festival has lots of family-friendly programming, including Huck Finn Day, where teens put together games for younger kids, and stock the pond with trout for fishing. There’s also the Little Miss Strawberry Days competition, where the winners are chosen based on a written essay; a baby contest; a kids’ art show; a kids’ parade; and a princess party.
Pleasant Grove’s City Recreation Center also “goes all out and has tournaments in everything,” Young said, including volleyball, golf, relay races, tennis and spikeball.
On Tuesday, June 14, the Shane Lee Band performs in the park, and the festival gives out free strawberries and cream. “That’s the coveted dessert of the week,” Young said. (The dessert is available for purchase June 15-18 at stands in the downtown park and in the rodeo arena.)
After strawberries and cream, the most popular dessert of the week is pie. Many strawberry pies will be consumed at the annual pie-eating contest, which happens on Friday, June 17.
“I know they have other kinds, too, like chocolate cream and stuff like that, but they are definitely heavy on the strawberries,” Young said.
The week includes multiple tours of local gardens and historic buildings. And there’s a carnival midway, which was started in Pleasant Grove by Lou and Lois Melendez, who now take it all over the country, Young said. “But they come home for Strawberry Days,” Young said. “They’ve always been a part of it.”
The week ends with a big parade — so big they call it the “Mammoth Parade” — and a rodeo. At its largest, the grand parade featured 140 entries, though Young said they try to keep it to a trim 100 or 120 these days.
Young, like everyone else involved in Strawberry Days, is a volunteer, and it’s a nearly year-round effort. After June’s festivities, they will take a few months off, and then start planning for 2023. Though sometimes it’s hard for Young not to think about Strawberry Days, even when she’s on vacation.
“I was in California a few years ago, down the coast, and ran across a strawberry farm,” she said. “They were so cute — they said, ‘We just finished our festival — we went through 50 flats.’ And I was like ‘Oh! We go through thousands and thousands of cases!’”
Here are more small-town festivals scheduled across Utah this summer:
Scandinavian Heritage Festival, Ephraim • May 27-28 • This year’s events include a quilt show, history talks, 1K, 5K and 10K runs, parade, pioneer reenactments, a beard contest, a maypole dance, a wife-carrying competition and pickleball tournament. There will also be food and crafts booths.
Cherry Days, North Ogden • July 3 • This festival marks its 90th year. Events will include a medallion search, 5k fun run, kids games, petting zoo, parade and fireworks.
Orchard Days, Santaquin • July 30 • This year’s festival includes a children’s rodeo, train rides, 4-H petting zoo, movies in the park, rock hunt, quilt show, e-sports tournament, chalk art competition, parade, car show, live music, and food and craft booths.
Harvest Days, Midvale • August 1-6 • Now 80 years old, this weeklong festival features a parade, food booths, live music and fireworks as well as neighborhood block parties, a Friday night concert in the park and kids’ activities.
Bear Lake Raspberry Days Festival • August 3-6 • This year’s festival will include a golf tournament, a pie-eating contest, concerts, a rodeo, 5K run, a boat parade, craft fair and fireworks.
Peach Days, Hurricane • September 1-3 • Features free golf, pickleball and cornhole tournaments, a quilt camp, carnival midway, rodeo, food and craft booths and fireworks.
Golden Onion Days, Payson • September 2 • Started in 1929 as the Onion Harvest and Homecoming, it’s held each Labor Day weekend and features a carnival, live music, a baby contest, car show, 5K and 10K runs, a parade, food booths and fireworks.
Midway Swiss Days • September 3-4 • Includes performances by Wasatch Dance Company, Accordions Aloud, Swiss Bells Autumn Ski. Food offerings include Swiss Chicken, Swiss tacos, pie, ice cream, scones, and knockwurst sandwiches.
Brigham City Peach Days • September 9-10 • Started in 1904, this festival features a Peach Queen pageant, library book sale, parade, softball tournament, lip synch battle, live music, carnival, motorcycle show, and art/crafts and food vendors.
Melon Days Green River • September 16-17 • This 117-year-old festival is still centered around the harvest of the fruit it celebrates. It also has a parade, a car show, a softball tournament, a pancake breakfast, a melon-carving contest and live music.