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Color Me Cultured: Pawpaw Festival was more than just fruit

I might not be culturally refined, but ever since I started this column, I had an idea of what I would be getting into when I got involved in a cultural experience. When I did yoga, I knew what yoga was. When I attended a bluegrass concert, I was aware of the concept of music. When I ate at the Mediterranean restaurant Salaam, I knew about the country of Mediterria. I am uncultured, not stupid.

However, when I made the choice to attend the 14th Annual Pawpaw Festival, I had no idea what I was getting into. Despite the fact that this festival has been going on for years, the first time I heard of it was when I saw an extremely flamboyant flyer promoting the festival. It was as if a Bob Marley album cover came to life and proceeded to stab me in the eyes. Being a fan of bright colors and ocular assault (I’ve been working on my restraint), I decided to go.

The flyer said there would be “pawpaw music” — which Wikipedia doesn’t have a page on, so it must not exist — and other things like, “art” and “history.” As for what kind of art and history, I had no idea. I assumed it was some kind of hippie festival because of the flyer design and the promotion of “sustainable living workshops”.

My incredibly closed-minded intuition proved somewhat correct as I walked among the shops and nearly every shop was selling homemade jewelry, glassware, tie-dye shirts, organic tea, vegan cookies, etc. That may sound like an insult, but it isn’t. Some of the jewelry was well-crafted, the glassware was beautiful, and I bought a bag of green tea from the people who supply the tea at many of the Ohio University venues. It was delicious.

While it is true most of the people there were the hippie type and the voting application booth covered with faces of Barack Obama betrayed their political affiliations, they were not the only group present. For every three hair-braided people I saw, I saw someone decked out in camo holding a weapon.

One memorable person I talked with explained how he accidentally ran over a chipmunk and expressed his remorse by skinning the dead animal and using his hide to decorate a large knife. He then presented the knife to his wife as a “neck knife.” I didn’t know people wore machetes around their necks. Thanks stranger whose face I have permanently engrained in my memory!

After about an hour of taking in the sights and laughing at the fact that people ate deep-fried Twinkies, I finally learned what a pawpaw is. It is a fruit. As I ate my pawpaw popsicle (which was gross), I learned that the pawpaw is America’s largest edible domestic fruit. It was a very popular fruit until after WWII, because then, we had developed refrigeration, and this gave us access to other, better fruits.

Therefore, what I gathered was this was a festival in honor of a fruit that was not as good as a banana. Right? Wrong. There was so much more there than just pawpaws. The fact that it took me an hour to actually see one is proof of that.

One person I talked to was selling organic wool that she harvested from her own alpacas, which are small llama-like creatures that don’t spit as much. She told me that her product was “sustainable,” which was also one of the themes of this year’s festival. I couldn’t be sure if she was telling the truth or just trying to offload her smelly animal hair on me, but it did strike me as true, as everyone here seemed incredibly environmentally conscious and eager to try to preserve the earth.

The flyer for the Pawpaw Festival didn’t do the place justice. It had so much to offer and I can understand why the thing is popular enough to have been held for so long. I’m saying this, and I was there for only an hour on Sunday, the day it was closing. There were even cooler things, like martial arts exhibitions, offered on Friday and Saturday. The fact that I didn’t go on Saturday was one of two regrets I had. The other was that I didn’t go Friday.

Dennis Fulton is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. What’s your favorite pawpaw confection? Email him at df342709@ohiou.edu.

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