Family Fun Delights at the 2017 Kumquat Festival

Kumquats are fun to eat and the word kumquat is fun to say, so it stands to reason that the Kumquat Festival January 28 in Dade City is going to be a fantastically fun event for all! Today, NatureCoaster explores all things kumquat to help prepare you for the 20th Annual Kumquat Festival. Read on.

What is a Kumquat?

The kumquat is native to China and was given as a traditional gift on New Year’s Day. Translating to “golden coins,” the kumquat represents prosperity, according to information from TV horticulturist Roger Swain, who has long been associated with the Kumquat Festival.

Where Did the Kumquat Festival Come From?

Nearly 100 years ago, Casper Joseph “J. C.” Nathe came to what is now known as St. Joseph, and worked several jobs to make ends meet, including at a nursery near Jessamine owned by J. W. Ellsworth. There, he became acquainted with the kumquat, an ornamental plant that was given to wish prosperity to the recipient.

Nathe planted an acre of kumquat trees in 1912, as well as 50 acres of citrus, and bananas, avocados, guavas, pineapples and vegetables to feed his family and trade for other goods and services.

An acre of Kumquats planted in 1912 by J.S. Nathe has blossomed into a great festival. Image by Robin Draper of Authentic Florida.

The Nathe family used the fruit for preserves and they became popular among area residents. Orders started coming in, so they began growing more kumquats. In less than 15 years, Florida Grower magazine crowned J.C. Nathe “the world’s kumquat king.”

Several local St. Joseph families began converting their acreage to the profitable little sweet and sour fruit. From the 1930s to 1962, when a bad freeze destroyed the fruit on most of the trees, the quantity of kumquats grown in this rural area of eastern Pasco County grew and grew.

Kumquat Growers, Inc. was started, and is still owned by descendants of the original St. Joseph families that have been growing, packing and selling kumquats for close to 100 years.

Kumquat Growers, Inc. was started in 1971 by owners/growers were Charles Barthle, Frank Gude, Joseph and Paul Neuhofer and Fred Heidgerken. Today, Frank and Rosemarie Gude and Joseph and Margie Neuhofer own the nation’s largest producer and shipper of kumquats and kumquat products. They are descendants of the original St. Joseph families that have been growing, packing and selling kumquats for close to 100 years.

Why a Kumquat Festival?

The Kumquat Festival began in Dade City in 1997 by the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce.

Twenty years ago, The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce began holding a festival to celebrate the golden kumquat and all it has contributed to the area. Today, this wholesome, fun, and delicious event features over 425 vendors and 40 sponsors coming together throughout the streets of an historic, charming Southern town to celebrate the little fruit that is both sweet and sour.

“We couldn’t put on such a grand event without our generous sponsors,” John Moors, Executive Director of the Chamber said, “It is great to walk down 7th Street during the Festival and see the crowds interacting with our sponsors.”

Over 425 vendors and 40 sponsors make the Kumquat Festival a treasure hunt for visitors. Image courtesy of Richard Riley.

Florida Hospital Zephyrhills is the headlining sponsor for 2017. “We are proud to partner with the Chamber in bringing this family-friendly festival to Dade City. We wanted to show our support for the community in a big way. Every year our staff interacts with the thousands of people who attend this fun event and we have a blast,” said Susan Frimmel, Director of Marketing for Florida Hospital, Zephyrhills.

Major sponsors include the Kumquat Growers, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Peterson Insurance Agency-Auto Owners Insurance, Suncoast Credit Union, and the Tampa Bay Times.

Kumquat pie is one of the crowd favorites, available at the Festival and shuttle locations, it is delectable.

Sponsors include Bright House Networks, CSX Transportation, City of Dade City, Dade City Business Center-JDR Properties of Pasco, Inc., GEICO, Ierna’s Heating & Cooling, Jarrett Ford, Jim Browne Chevrolet Buick GMC of Dade City, Jim Browne Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Dade City, Jim Browne Collision Center, Pasco County Tourism, Tampa Electric Company-Pasco County, Visit Florida, and Wells Fargo.

Additional sponsors include AAA Auto Club Group, Beef O’Brady’s-Dade City, Boltin Pest Control, First National Bank of Pasco, Hampton Inn Dade City/Zephyrhills, IR Staffing, Morningside RV Estates, Pasco-Hernando State College, Pasco News Publications, Saint Leo University, Sam’s Club, Senior Helpers, Stor-Ette Storage, LLC, The Brass Tap-Dade City, and Tobacco Free Florida.

What Happens at the Kumquat Festival?

The 1909 historic Pasco County courthouse is a Dade City icon and is registered on the the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The 1909 historic Pasco County courthouse is a Dade City icon and is registered on the the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Live music is held on the courthouse steps throughout the day during the Kumquat Festival

Music is held on the 1909 Classical Revival style historic courthouse steps throughout the day, where visitors are encouraged to stop and refresh themselves.  Local entertainment includes many styles from clogging to jazz throughout the day.

Kumquat Festival Entertainment Schedule

9:30 am – 10:00 am – Saint Leo University – SASS (Girls A Cappella)
10:00am – 10:45 am – Calvary Assembly of God – Christian Contemporary  National Anthem/Prayer
11:00 am – 11:30 am – Strawberry Express Cloggers
11:30 am – 12 Noon – First Baptist Church of Dade City – Christian Blended Music
12 Noon – 1:00 pm – Eli Mosley – Country
1:00 pm – 2:00 pm – Dean Johnson’s Music & Friends – Various Styles
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm – Standing 8 Count – Jazz
3:00 pm – 3:30 pm – Derrick Tucker – Soul
3:30 pm – 4:00 pm – Clogging Teams at Traveler’s Rest
4:00 pm – 5:00 pm – This Train – 50’s & 60’s – Pop & Gospel

The Annual Kumquat Festival® Car & Truck Show, sponsored by O’Reilly Auto Parts, features an amazing variety of classic cars and trucks in the large parking lot of the downtown Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center. Organized by Trophies, dash plaques and a well-organized show attracts some of the nicest vehicles to be seen in the Southeast U.S. Show runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Pops 54 by Mike Groseclose at the Kumquat Festival Car Show. Ronnie Setser’s Car & Truck Shows puts on the annual event, drawing great vehicles from around Florida and the southeast U.S.

Local storefronts are decorated for the festival in kumquat themes and it can be nice to duck into a shop or restaurant and rest during the festivities. The Brass Tap, at the corner of 7th Street and Pasco Avenue offers Kumquat Carft beer for the connoisseur.

Dade City is a great town to visit any day and the unique shops and restaurants that make up this vibrant downtown are another great way to spend part of your day. Antiques, toys, books, jewelry, quilting, and pet supplies are some of the types of shops you will find. Restaurants vary from an authentic tea house to sandwich shops, coffee shops, Mexican, Italian, craft beer and fine dining. Although Dade City is a pet-friendly city, please allow your pets to stay at home during the festival for their safety.

Unique arts and crafts are fun to discover in many of the vendor booths lining the streets of this quaint city in eastern Pasco County. Many of these artisans return year after year to sell their wares.

Delicious kumquat foods, as well as many ethnic offerings are available to festivalgoers. There is a myriad of opportunities to sample the tasty little fruit, whether it be as marmalade, cookies, salsa, ice cream, refrigerator pie, or a sip of kumquat craft beer.

Great festival foods are available at the 20th Annual Kumquat Festival in Dade City from Kumquat Pie to fresh tamales. Image courtesy of Richard Riley.

A Kumquat Kids Corral offers families the opportunity to let off some steam with bounce houses, pony rides, games, face painting, rock climbing wall, a euro-bungee and more. The health and wellness area gives visitors a chance to talk with providers and glean valuable information.

Make it an Overnight Visit

Frank Gude, president of Kumquat Growers will give an introductory kumquat talk as part of the festivities at the Open House.

The 2017 Kumquat Growers Open House will be held at the Kumquat Growers packing house in St. Joseph from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM on the two days before the Kumquat Festival (Jan. 26 and 27). Here you can immerse yourself in the agricultural side of kumquats.

Talks by Frank Gude, President of the Kumquat Growers, share the origin and history of kumquats in the Dade City area. Also learn about the different types of kumquats and how they are used.

Previous years have had Roger Swain, known as the “man in red suspenders,” and host of PBS’ “The Victory Garden” giving this interesting talk.

There are tours of the Kumquat Growers packing house which explain how kumquats are picked, processed, packaged and shipped and a visit to the Kumquat Gift Shop where you will find a little bit of “all things kumquat.”

Lunch and live music, along with some historic demonstrations are provided.

Half hour tram tours allow visitors to see an actual kumquat grove. This tour explains the planting, maintenance and care of kumquat trees for commercial production.

Tram tours of a kumquat grove are part of the Kumquat Growers Open House event.

There is a nice Hampton Inn just south of downtown Dade City, and several hotels in Wesley Chapel along the I-75 and SR 56-SR54 corridor. Camping and RV hookups can be had at the Travelers Rest Resort.

The Kumquat Festival offers a fun-filled, family friendly alternative to the more boisterous Gasparilla Pirate Fest, held the same day in downtown Tampa.

Free admission, 425 vendors, 40 sponsors, a welcoming downtown, and free shuttle service from parking areas make the Kumquat Festival a must-do for NatureCoasters. Satellite parking lots are at the Pasco County Fairgrounds, 36733 State Road 53, Dade City, and along U.S. 301 across from Jarrett Ford.

The kumquat has become an important part of Florida’s Nature Coast, and the 20th Annual Kumquat Festival January 28 in downtown Dade City promises to be one not to miss. For more information, click here.

Be sure to plan a visit back to Dade City after the festival for a slower-paced shopping, dining and unwinding experience. John Moors says, “Enjoy the festival and come back to visit soon.”