Rain, weeds cause Teen Challenge to cancel Saturday's strawberry festival

Sunday, May 22, 2011
William Yuede of Cape Girardeau, from right, Same Malone of Jackson, Patrick Malone of Jackson, Skyler Sykes of Scott City and Glen Sinclair pick strawberries during the 2009 Mid-America Teen Challenge Strawberry Festival north of Cape Girardeau. (Elizabeth Dodd)

Heavy rains and even heavier weeds have conspired this spring to create an abysmal crop, prompting Teen Challenge International of Mid-America to scratch its annual strawberry festival.

The festival was scheduled to take place Saturday, but rains in recent months didn't allow the weeds to be sprayed, said Heather Seabaugh, a Teen Challenge executive assistant who organizes the event.

"The weeds just took over," she said Friday. "We usually do spray for the weeds, but the rain would just wash it away. We just aren't going to be able to do it this year."

During normal years, bumper crops would produce as many as 40,000 quarts of strawberries that the organization sells to raise funds for its work with drug and alcohol addicts. This year, the students at Teen Challenge have only been able to pick enough berries for about 100 quarts, she said.

For at least the last 20 years, the strawberry festival has been one of the faith-based organization's biggest fundraisers. Last year, more than 650 people attended the festival at Teen Challenge's farm off County Road 621 near Cape Girardeau.

Seabaugh has been at Teen Challenge for 10 years. She said it never has been canceled in the past.

In 2007, the festival was held even after an April frost damaged about 70 percent of the crop. The following year, the festival was delayed a week to make sure there would enough strawberries.

This year's lack of production will also nix selling the berries at a stand at a local grocery store parking lot, Seabaugh said.

The strawberry festival is more than a fundraiser, however. The daylong event allows the 143 students who are recovering from addiction to interact with members of the community, Seabaugh said.

"It's the one event each year that brought people to our campus," she said. "We're pretty disappointed. It's usually a really fun day."

Executive director James Bolin said the lack of strawberries will mean a loss of between $30,000 to $40,000 and said it is a big hit. But he said they will ask their supporters to consider donating the cost of a flat of strawberries, which is normally about $24.

"Maybe we can have a bumper crop this year without having strawberries," he said "But it won't have any serious long-term effect on the program. Our program is bigger than our strawberries or our strawberry festival. God's our source."



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