Manatee family credits loyal fans for 25 years of pumpkin fests

It’s loyal fans like Skye Lawless, who drove to Hunsader Farms from Clearwater on Sunday solely for an ear of farm roasted sweet corn, that have made it possible for the Hunsader family to celebrate 25 years of pumpkin festivals.

“Our fans really support us,” said Austin Hunsader, 20, son of David and Kim Hunsader, who, themselves, are part of an extended family which annually runs the pumpkin festival right on their family farm at 5500 C.R. 675 in east Bradenton.

Sunday was the second day of the historic six-day, 25th annual festival, and patrons began pouring in around noon to escape urbanization for a few hours and go on ‘farm time’ while checking out 75 craft booths, live music, a pioneer trade village, homemade ice cream, pony rides, a petting zoo, the corn maze, the butterfly experience, hundreds of pumpkins to buy and scores more attractions.

Among them was the sweet corn princess herself, Skye Lawless, with her husband, Mike.

“It’s sweet,” Lawless said as she carefully dined on an ear wrapped in a paper towel while she sat at a picnic table. “It’s delicious. You don’t need any salt. You don’t need any butter. It’s good just the way it is.”

The festival continues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the next two weekends, Oct. 22-23 and Oct. 29-30.

Admission is $10, parking is $5 and children age 12 and younger attend free.

Sunday brought perfect fest weather — light, cool breezes and nearly cloudless skies — as the crowd likely approached the single-day festival record of about 26,000 that was last year. The three-weekend attendance record is about 140,000.

New Hunsaders attractions this year include the “Welde’s Bear Show,” “Agri Puppet Show,” “Extreme Raptors Birds of Prey” and “BMX Bike Stunt Show.”

“In Welde’s bear show he has five grizzlies who perform and do tricks,” Austin Hunsader said. “The Birds of Prey is a good show with bald eagles and hawks. The puppet show includes agriculture education for kids.”

East Manatee dancers shine

The Movement Dance Company, comprised of 61 youths from many East Manatee schools such as Lakewood Ranch High School, Manatee School for the Arts, Haile Middle, Nolan Middle and Williams Elementary, delighted the festival crowd with 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. energetic jazz and hip hop shows.

“The kids did great,” said dance company owner Kristina Castner, who is opening her new studio for The Movement Dance Company at 4612 E. S.R. 64 in Bradenton later this month. Castner is known throughout the area for her 12-year stint running KC and the Sunshine Dancers, a competitive dance team.

Sunday was a first for all of the young dancers. They got to perform in a wild west saloon.

“I’ve brought dance teams to Hunsaders, but we always performed on the main stage,” Castner said. “I’m sure the kids enjoyed that they got to perform in a saloon bar, even though it wasn’t a real one.”

The Movement Dance Company will next perform at the festival at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Oct. 23.

Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins and pony rides

The night before their trip to the festival on Sunday, Erika Figueroa and Talia Grable of Palmetto, who both work at Manatee Memorial Hospital, told their little girl, 4-year-old Mia Figueroa, that she would see hundreds of bright orange pumpkins at the pumpkin festival.

They said she could pick out her own to take home. Although Mia was patient during the pumpkin purchase, she was distracted by the promise of a pony ride.

“Our little girl wants to ride that pony,” said a smiling Erika Figueroa, a hospital administrative assistant.

“She is energetic,” Grable, a supervisor in dietary at the hospital, said as she watched Mia scurry around before finding the perfect Mia-sized pumpkin.

Asked what she had imagined the pumpkin festival would look like, Mia said, “a horse.”

For more information on the festival, call (941) 322-2168 or go to hunsaderfarms.com/pumpkin-festival.

Richard Dymond: 941-745-7072, @RichardDymond

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