For grower, 2022 festival will be bittersweet occasion

Rick Longshore shows off his crop of strawberries.

STILWELL – Strawberry growers today in Adair County continue a long tradition in the agriculture community, and their efforts are rewarded during the annual Stilwell Strawberry Festival – the oldest continually running festival in the state of Oklahoma.

The celebration is always held the second weekend in May, and this year marks the 75th Diamond Jubilee anniversary.

Rick Longshore picked 14 quarts of Galletta and Early Glo strawberries last Wednesday, May 4 – his first for 2022. He grows strawberries because he likes to eat them, but he also enjoys the challenge.

“I like to raise something people will come back asking for more,” said Longshore.

Many of this first batch of berries went to takers at Stilwell High School. He has 20 rows, each 100 feet long – about half an acre.

With the recent rains rain, he speculating earlier this week about how good his produce would be for the festival.

“I don’t know if I will have the best for the festival, maybe earlier. But if I have any, I’ll bring some,” said Longshore.

Longshore is, first and foremost, a poultry farmer, and he owns 50 head of cattle. A relative got him started growing in the late 1980s.

“My wife’s dad wanted to do it. We’ve done it since the late ‘80s. He’s passed now, a few years ago,” he said.

His own dad, Leroy Longshore, also grew berries at one time.

“In the late '50s and '60s, if they farmed at all, they raised berries. There was a market for them, though: Stilwell Foods. Back then, the people who picked them stemmed them, then put them in quarts for the canning factory,” Longshore said.

When the market dried up, so did the growing, he said. Growing berries is a lot of work.

“You don’t just plant them and they come back. You have to spend all summer with them. They don’t ripen at the same time, so some come off early and some go longer into the summer,” said Longshore.

Longshore planned to participate in the festival if he has any worthy of the competition, and expects he’ll have berries to sell. But it will be a bittersweet occasion. He became attending the local event every year with his wife, Andrea.

“I’ve been going every year with my wife since we met. She passed last year on festival weekend, Sunday, May 13,” he said.

In the Strawberry Festival booklets the Kiwanis Club creates each year is a dedication to the volunteer who will be greatly missed this season.

“They put a nice piece about her in it,” Longshore said.

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