Brenda Gabbert’s 56-acre farm is about 25 miles north of Milton, but she hopes those who make the trek to the Jay Peanut Festival experience a trip to through time as much as distance.
“I describe it to people as being like an old-fashioned county fair, without the carnival rides,” said Gabbert, who has coordinated the festival with her husband, Gene, for 23 years.
“It’s all about farming and rural life. That’s what we try to show people,” she said. “It’s good for the whole family. There is something for everybody. We really cater to the kids.”
This year’s festival is set for Oct. 5 – 6. As many as 70,000 people are expected to attend.
The festival site is a functioning farm, with 40 acres of peanuts – which is managed by a farmer who leases it from the Gabberts – and 16 acres that includes the couple’s home and a field of hay.
Their property also includes two museums – a farming museum and replica of a 1940s style John Deere dealership – as well as a fleet of restored classic tractors. All of that is incorporated into the festival.
“My husband has all of these tractors he’s restored himself,” Gabbert said. “We let other people bring their stuff if they want to show it.”
Of course, the highlight of the Peanut Festival is the versatile legume itself. The peanut plays a vital role in Santa Rosa County agriculture. In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, peanuts were the most valuable crop in the county, accounting for $22 million in gross value.
At the festival, the Jay Volunteer Fire Department has exclusive domain over the sale of boiled peanuts. The department uses the money raised to help supplement its modest public funding. Other vendors will offer green peanuts – the kind patrons take home to boil for themselves – roasted peanuts, fried peanuts, peanut brittle, baked goods with peanuts and many of the other forms the protein-packed snack can take.
In all, Gabbert expects as many as 250 vendors, including crafters, businesses, churches and other non-profit organizations.
“We gain more vendors every year and more people,” she said. “It’s getting crowded.”
Both days of the festival will feature live entertainment: country music and other live acts on Saturday and Christian music on Sunday. There will also be a church service at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
The festival will offer pony and horse rides, stage coach rides, hay rides, a rock climbing wall, a bungee jump, a mechanical bull, train rides and inflatable attractions. On Saturday, there will be a pig chase for children ages 4 to 12. On Sunday, pets and their owners are invited to a costume parade and contest.
Admission and parking at the festival is free, a point of pride for Gabbert. The festival is funded solely through vendor fees.
“We get letters from people who tell us this is the only thing they can afford to come to,” she said. “They have kids and they don’t have the money to go to things that have admission. They can come here and not spend a penny if they don’t want to.”
The Peanut Festival dates to 1990 when the Gabberts started the event in memory of their daughter, Melissa, a 19-year-old who died earlier that year from cancer.
The Gabberts’ other child, Mandy Gabbert Simmons, helps with the festival. Her husband, Tony Simmons, helps get ready for the festival. However, since Simmons is the Jay fire chief, he is busy with the boiled peanuts while the festival is underway.
If you go:
- Event: Jay Peanut Festival
- Dates and Times: Oct. 5 and 6, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (both days)
- Location: 3604 Pine Level Church Road, Jay
- Admission and Parking: Free