Ohio Pawpaw Festival – Lake Snowden

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The Ohio Pawpaw Festival is a celebration of all things pawpaw! Held the second weekend of September at Lake Snowden, in Albany, this was the 16th year for the annual festival. Chris Chmiel, of Integration Acres in Athens along with the Albany Business & Community Development committee and the Albany Riding Club, started the pawpaw festival in 1999 to raise awareness about this native — but forgotten — fruit. Over the years the festival has grown into an annual three-day event, complete with pawpaw tastings, food and drink vendors, lectures and workshops, arts and crafts, live music, competitive games and outdoor recreational activities.

What the heck is a pawpaw, you ask? It’s the state native fruit of Ohio! The pawpaw is a fairly common tree and is native to the eastern part of the US. The fruit, which is edible, has a soft texture like custard (or pudding) and a tropical taste. Some people compare it to banana, mango and vanilla. I think it tastes like a combination mango, banana and pineapple, but the texture is softer than all three.

The taste of the pawpaw is unfamiliar to Americans because the pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) belongs to the tropical plant family Annonaceae. The majority of the plants in this family are found in the tropics, like soursop, custard-apple and cherimoya. The pawpaw is also highly perishable and more likely to be found on a hike in the woods than at your local grocery store (though you can find it at some farmers’ markets!).

Pawpaws used to be more popular and well-known than they are today. Native Americans enjoyed the fruit as did early pioneers. George Washington’s favorite dessert is said have been to be chilled pawpaw. Then there’s the American folk song about picking pawpaws, which I will let you listen to in this awesome video of this year’s festival, created by Joe Bell:

I went to my first pawpaw festival in 2007 when I was a student at Ohio University. My husband, Kenneth, and I have made it back for several festivals in between that first year and this year’s festival. It’s my favorite event in Athens County!

Several tents at the festival are dedicated to workshops and lectures about the pawpaw and other interesting topics. This year the Pawpaw Tent included a variety of pawpaw related presentations from Pawpaw Permaculture and Pawpaw Jeopardy to So You Want to Grow Pawpaws, Pawpaw Pollinators From Obvious to Strange and Cooking with Pawpaws. The Ohio Country Fair Tent offered a wide variety of special interest topics including a special viewing of the documentary Fresh, Yoga with INHALE, Storytime with Deer Hill Folk Tellers and several workshops, including Creating Wildlife and Pollinator Habitat in Appalachia and Building Sustainable Food Networks. The East of the River Shawnee Schedule included presentations on Native Medicine: Body & Spirit, Drumming and Singing and Native Genealogy.

The festival features an amazing sampling of local food and drink, as well as foods containing pawpaw. This is my favorite way to yet again taste all of the delicious food I enjoyed during my four years living in Athens as a student at Ohio University. Some of my favorite vendors at the festival include: the Burrito Buggy, the Herbal Sage Tea Company, Ali Baba’s KitchenChelsea’s Real Food and Snowville Creamery. Every year Snowville makes the best pawpaw ice cream, which is made in a human-powered ice cream bike! We sampled some of Snowville’s delicious dessert-creamed topped yogurt – the Coffee-Cardamom blend is heavenly!

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The Pawpaw Festival also includes a Pawpaw Beer garden. This year the six brews were: two Pawpaw Wheat brews from Buckeye Brewing Company and Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery, Pawpaw Saison from Thirsty Dog, Putnam’s Pawpaw Ale from the Marietta Brewing Company, the Cookie Duster from the Black Box Brewing Company and Weasel Paw Pawpaw Pale Ale from Weasel Boy Brewing Company. The Athens Do It Yourself Shop provided kegs of non-alcoholic pawpaw soda.

A new tent, the Pollinator/Butterfly tent was added to the festival this year. Free workshops on native plants, beekeeping, creating a National Wildlife Federation habitat and the Monarch and Zebra Swallowtail Butterflies were offered. Native plants were for sale as well as plenty of butterfly related merchandise. There was even a small Monarch tent where visitors could hang out with some live Monarch butterflies. You could also get a close up look at live Monarch caterpillars and chrysalids in a small aquarium that was on display.

The logo for the festival changes every year (check out last year’s logo, which featured baby bobcats and pawpaws here!) and this year the logo featured the caterpillar of the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). These caterpillars exist solely on the leaves of pawpaw trees. They are the few, if not only, creatures known to eat the pawpaw leaves. I assume this means they have no taste buds, rip the leaves of a pawpaw tree and you will smell an acrid odor which reminds me of fresh asphalt, it’s gross!

Butterflies weren’t the only animals at the festival. We saw alpacas, gigantic snakes and native Ohio fish in various locations throughout the festival. Many different local organizations including the Athens Conservancy, Athens County Area Beekeeping Association, OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association), Raccoon Creek Water Trails Association and Rural Action had tables with information about local conservation issues and ways to get involved in the Athens community.

The Pawpaw Festival is the most environmentally conscious festival I’ve been to. This mirrors the eco-friendly actions of the surrounding community. In order to reduce carbon emissions released from cars (and to save parking space at Lake Snowden), free shuttles to and from the festival from several different locations in Athens and Albany were provided. The trash receptacles at the festival included recycling and composting bags. The goal for the festival is to be zero waste (nothing going to the to landfill) and food vendors have to use compostable serving ware only. The music stage is solar-powered and many of the workshops and lectures focused on returning to nature, either through growing pawpaws and persimmons (another native fruit tree), vermicomposting, keeping backyard chickens or bees or learning about alternative energy.

While Kenneth and I have attended many Pawpaw Festivals in the past, we have never bought pawpaws at the festival. The line was always so long and we usually came across pawpaws in our hikes in the woods. This year we decided to face the long line and buy some pawpaws from Integration Acres. While we have seen a ton of pawpaw trees in our walks in the local parks here in Cincinnati, very few of them have had any fruit on them.

Integration Acres is a unique farm.They use semi-wild cultivation methods for pawpaws, spicebush berries, mushrooms, ramps and other forest crops. They also do not use chemical herbicides, fungicides or fertilizers. In addition to forest crops, Integration Acres also makes jarred and frozen products and goat cheese. The goats were added to the farm originally to help manage some non-native invasive plants, multifora rose and Japanese honeysuckle. Goats will eat pretty much anything, but they do not like pawpaw leaves! The goat herd has grown and Integration Acres now makes feta, smoked chèvre, smoked gouda, chase cheddar and other cheeses. We ended up buying a pound of fresh pawpaws and some dried spicebush berries. It was definitely worth the wait in line!

I love attending the Pawpaw Festival – it feels like coming home to Athens and the wonderful community in southeastern Ohio! The Pawpaw Festival is about pawpaws, but it’s also more than that. It’s about community and a connection with the earth.

One of my favorite things about the festival is watching folks leave with their own pawpaw tree to plant. I like thinking that they came to the festival unfamiliar with this amazing fruit, tried it and loved it so much they wanted to grow their own. That’s pretty amazing! How many festivals do you attend where you see people taking home a tree to plant in their backyard? That’s something that makes the Ohio Pawpaw Festival pretty special.

There is no way I can encompass everything thing there is to know about this festival in one blog post. You have to check this one out for yourself! The 17th Ohio Pawpaw Festival will be September 11th – 13th, 2015. Be there!

In the meantime, learn a little more about pawpaws!

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ohio-120x120Ohio Pawpaw Festival

Address: 5900 US 50 Albany, Ohio 45710

Phone Number: 740-698-6060

Social Media: Facebook, Twitter

Lake Snowden

Address: 5900 US 50 Albany, Ohio 45710

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