GRANT - On the Treasure Coast, nothing embodies the community spirit of small-town America like the 54th annual Grant Seafood Festival.
The two-day festival, Feb.29-March 1, offers free admission, parking and entertainment. Tickets are sold to purchase individual food items or full dinners.
In addition to about 25 varieties of almost every type of local seafood you can think of, the festival offers a “landlubber” menu for those who want something other than seafood, and sweets like Key Lime Pie and Cotton Candy, plus beer and wine.
The festival is run by approximately 300 volunteers. Many booths are comprised of multiple generations of family members.
Carla Simmons, the co-chairwoman of the fried shrimp booth, has volunteered at the festival since 1992.
“I started doing clams and linguini,” Ms. Simmons told Hometown News. “We inherited the shrimp booth in about 1997.”
Carla’s husband, Clark, who grew up in Valkaria, first volunteered in the 1970s.
“He started volunteering at the festival doing garbage pick-up, like all the kids did back then," Ms. Simmons said. "He went a few years without volunteering, but we both started volunteering again in 1992.
“My son volunteered back before he had kids. My sister-in-law helps in my booth," she continued. My niece and my cousin also volunteer in my booth. We’ve pretty much had the same volunteers for the last 10 or 12 years. They just come back to the booth; it’s their job the one weekend in February.”
All of the organizing, purchasing, preparation, cooking and serving is done by community volunteers.
All proceeds from the festival are put back into the community, including the Grant Seafood Festival scholarship fund.
“The bulk of the money raised always goes to the scholarship program,” said Marketing Chairperson Robin Tibbitts. “Our goal is at least $66,000 a year. All the money always goes right back into the community. We have to maintain our grounds. The funds help the Grant Historical House, the cemetery, the Grant Community Library, and The Grant Community Center.”
The college scholarships are a huge part of the community spirit of the festival.
“My son, when he was in school, was able to receive a little bit,” said Ms. Simmons. “Back when he was going to college we didn’t have the amount to give out like we do now. The scholarships have grown as the years went by.
“We’ve got two people working in our booth now that received scholarships," Ms. Simmons added. "Usually, as the kids grow up through the ranks and go to college, they come back and work the festival. You’ll find a lot of the recipients of the college funds working at the festival. You watch the kids grow up, they go to college, they have families, and now we see their kids wandering around the festival.”
“I like what it represents," Ms. Simmons said. "I like the fact that it’s all volunteers. It’s the small-town feel; this is small-town America. It sounds corny, but it is. Everybody knows everybody, and if you don’t know their name you know them by sight. It’s small-town USA.”
The festival has free live entertainment both days, including Nightfly and Sub Groove on Saturday, Feb. 29, and Tumbleweed on Sunday, March 1.
“Our arts and crafts area is truly unbelievable, with over 125 exhibitors,” said Ms. Tibbitts. “We get the best, and the applications for that part of the festival fill up immediately. It’s a great show.”
The Grant Library will hold its annual book sale on the front porch of the Grant Community Center during the festival. Hundreds of used hardcover and paperback books will be sold, with proceeds used to purchase new books and videos for the Grant Library, which is not a part of the county system.
The community service area is on the west end of the community center. This area features local businesses and many civic and community organizations. Visit the GSF History tent to learn all about the festival.
While free parking is available on site, it tends to fill up early in the morning. Ms. Tibbitts suggests that visitors consider parking at Valkaria Airport on Valkaria Road and catching a free shuttle. Shuttle buses will run from Valkaria Airport on a continuous loop 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
The Grant Seafood Festival takes place Feb. 29, 9 a.m.-7 p.m., and Mar. 1, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., at 4580 1st Street, Grant.