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Okra Festival celebrates food, folks

When most people talk about something homegrown, they’re usually talking about food.

For Barbara Evans, the idea of homegrown is more about people — but with some food, music and art mixed in.

That’s the idea behind the eighth annual Okra Festival in Burkville in rural Lowndes County.

“It’s not commercial. All the food vendors must come from Lowndes County,” said Evans, the festival’s organizer. “We don’t charge vendor fees. We don’t charge admission. Artists are invited to come from everywhere.”

Festivities kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday, and there is literally something for everyone.

Lowndes County native and blues musician Sonny Boy King will headline a varied list of entertainers.

The works of Annie Mae, Amos Paul Kennedy and other local artists will also be on display.

And of course, there is the food. Something for every palate is offered, but it all comes down to one basic dish.

“It really does celebrate the okra, which is a very tough vegetable,” Evans said. “Usually, it’s dry as a bone this time of year, and the only thing producing is the okra. That’s why we named it the Okra Festival because the okra is much like the people that live here. We’re tough, we’re resilient, we like to have a good time.

“That’s what this is really about — to celebrate our community.”

The celebration is about the local wares, but people from all over are invited to attend.

Evans said she takes care to make sure the setting is comfortable and inclusive.

The festival relies mainly on volunteer workers to do everything from cleanup work to make signs.

There were originally two people organizing the event when it began eight years ago. Since 2003, the festival has been held in memory of co-founder Alice Juanita Stewart, who died of breast cancer.

Evans, who works for WildLaw, a non-profit environmental law firm, had to take a week off after her friend’s death.

But she saw no reason to discontinue what she and Stewart had started.

“It’s always tough, but it’s a labor of love. This is my favorite day of the year,” Evans said. “People just respect each other, and because it’s so non-commercial, it just takes a lot of the work out of it. Yeah, it’s hard work, but it’s so worth it.”

For kids, there are train rides, buggy rides, face painting, art, crafts and games.

At 5 and 7 p.m., a documentary about Kennedy and the festival called “Proceed and be Bold” will be shown. Strong language may make it inappropriate for children, however.

Several people have told Evans they think of the festival as a “big family party.”

Since it’s held at her house, that sounds just about right.

“We are really laid back here,” she said. “There’s not much self-segregation, so people really do interact.”

More details and driving directions can be found at www.okrafestival.org.