The 23rd annual Pawpaw Festival kicked off Friday and introduced history, education and cooking tips for festival-goers who were unfamiliar with the pawpaw fruit.
The fest ran from Friday, Sept. 17, until Sunday, Sept. 19, and had a sizable turnout despite COVID-19 fears.
One of the founders, Chris Chmiel, said the festival has been a staple of the local Athens and Albany community for over 20 years. Partnering with local vendors, shops and sponsors, the fest and its future looks bright.
“I started it in 1999 with some other folks as a way to basically bring people to Albany, Ohio,” Chmiel said. “I mean, the first year we had it in October, and it was just one day, and in 2019, we had close to 10,000 people. We've continued to grow, partner with different organizations and such. We always try to add new things.’’
There were numerous tents that each tackled a different piece of the agricultural side of handling pawpaws. From pollination to harvest, there was a plethora of information to learn from experienced farmers, cooks and botanists.
First time festival-goers like Kalyan Chakiararlhy thought the festival was slightly underwhelming, primarily because of the limited pawpaw availability and lack of pawpaw-infused food items despite highly enjoying the taste.
“We were asked to buy a limited quantity of pawpaws and, whatever we got was not up to the mark — what I expected it to be,” Chakiararlhy said.
However, Ken Dwigans, an experienced pawpaw grower and educationalist, gave festival-goers all the information they needed about starting their own pawpaw farms. Situated under one of the numerous white tents, Dwigans answered questions about pawpaws, including cultivation, where growers can see varieties of the fruit and a timeline of when you should see a pawpaw tree start bearing them.
“So, essentially a pawpaw … it's the only cold tropical fruit that grows in our climate,” Dwigans said. “Nowadays, we have different cultivars that are just enough different where we can start to see different colors of yellow, different times that they fruit and different amounts of weight. So, as far as planting in the field, as long as it's 2 years old, and it doesn't get picked up by the sun as much and without competition, and with a little bit of love and moisture and proper rich soil, you should have a tree fruiting in about eight years.’’
The 2021 Pawpaw Festival brought family-friendly fun, learning opportunities and great food to the local area and hopes to continue to be a staple for people.