If you went back in time a couple of decades, you'd never suspect that the Hunsader Farms Pumpkin Festival would become one of West Central Florida's biggest annual celebrations.
"We had some crafts people, that was pretty much it," David Hunsader said of that inaugural pumpkin festival 22 years ago. "We did all the food ourselves."
These days, he said, the festival has grown to the point where he can't even begin to contemplate how many people turn out.
"I don't know," he said. "Tens of thousands, every weekend, every day."
That little celebration of local agriculture now draws people from hundreds of miles away.
"Oh, it's very much a destination," he said. "We get people from all over. People come from Georgia. They come from as far south as Miami."
Hunsader said he has watched the festival develop from a low-key local attraction into a family tradition.
"Now we have people who came here with when they were kids and now they're bringing their own kids," he said. "You know, maybe they were 5 years old when their parents brought them 22 years ago, and now they have kids of their own."
This year's festival begins this Saturday on the 1,000-acre Hunsader Farm on County Road 675. It runs for three weekends.
The six days of the festival are packed with food, activities and entertainment, including almost constant live country music.
Among the new events this year are a monster truck show and performances by internationally known illusionist Justino Zoppe.
Gates open at 9 a.m. and the festival runs until 5 p.m. each of the six days. Here's the schedule of events:
Oct. 12-13: Buffalo Country Band, Watching Wendy, Sweeney Family Band, Mountain Brew, Howie Banfield Folk Music, Walker Brothers Circus, Farm-ly Feud Game Show, America's BMX Bike Stunt Show from "America's Got Talent," Collector Car Show (10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 13 only), Gunslinger Monster Truck Show and Justino Zoppe Magic Show.
Oct. 19-20: Buffalo Country Band, Southern Express Bluegrass, Sweeney Family Band, Bob & Tom the Band (Oct. 19 only), Rick the Trickster (Oct. 20 only), Old Time Music with Ed & Geraldine, Walker Brothers Circus, Farm-ly Feud Game Show, Smage Brothers Stunt Show, Gunslinger Monster Truck Show and Justino Zoppe Magic Show.
Oct. 26-27: Buffalo Country Band, Watching Wendy (Oct. 26 only), Porchdogs Band (Oct. 27 only), Sweeney Family Band, Mean Mary Music, Old Time Music with Ed & Geraldine, Walker Brothers Circus, Farm-ly Feud Game Show, Moto Cross Stunt Show, Gunslinger Monster Truck Show and Justino Zoppe Magic Show.
Also, Oct. 27 are costume contests for children in various age groups: 1 p.m. up to 2 years old, 1:30 p.m. ages 3 -4, 2 p.m. ages 5-7, 2:30 p.m. ages 8-10. Children in costumes can trick-or-treat from 3 to 5 p.m.
Details: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27, Hunsader Farms, 5500 County Road 675, Bradenton. Tickets: $8, children 12 and under free. Information: 941-322-2168, www.hunsaderfarms.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.