RUTLEDGE – The Grainger County Tomato Festival will not take place this summer.
Grainger County Tomato Festival Chairman Kathie Self announced the festival would be postponed until 2021 Wednesday, May 13.
She said, “If you cancel something, that means you’re not going to do it at all, but if you postpone something, you are doing it within a reasonable amount of time. Ours will be next July.”
Self said the Tomato Festival Committee met Tuesday, May 12 to discuss whether to proceed with the festival. She said the meeting lasted several hours as committee members tried to come up with a way to hold the festival. The decision ultimately came down to whether the public would be safe.
“This is not one of these situations we can promote right now. Postponing sounds (like) the best thing that we can do due to all of the things that are going on right now,” she said.
Self said there were several reasons for postponing the festival. She said Governor Bill Lee’s Tennessee Pledge is not yet allowing festivals to occur, and large public events will not be allowed until a new executive order is issued.
“We don’t know where we’re going to be in a month and a half from now. That may sound like we’ve got plenty of time. No, we don’t,” said Self. “We have vendors that come from all over the southeast and above the Mason-Dixon line.”
Self said the committee also had to decide if it wanted to run the risk of people not being safe.
“That’s the main thing right now, the population. We’ve always prided ourselves in trying to be protective of our festival. We want to make sure everybody has a good time. We want to make sure they are hydrated. We want to make sure they’re safe,” said Self.
She said the committee couldn’t guarantee the safety of everyone if it allowed the festival to happen this July. She said the committee would not have been able to use the areas inside the schools, as they usually do, because it couldn’t guarantee people would remain six feet apart. She said there would not have been enough space.
Self said the committee could not limit the number of people who attended the festival and there were typically 15,000 to 20,000 people who attend. Self said a member of the Tennessee Department of Health informed her it would be like “a petri dish for infection.”
She said if the festival continued as planned, the committee would have been responsible for any cases of COVID-19 contracted due to the event. She also said insurance coverage would not have been possible.
“That was one of the things, insurance-wise, when it was asked, we were told ‘Uh...’ like that. That’s enough to tell me what I need to know. That I don’t think that we would be covered because this (virus) is something we know about,” said Self.
She said she didn’t want to risk anyone contracting the disease, and if the committee could do anything to help save someone from suffering, she believed it should.
“We didn’t want to see anyone suffer, or possibly come in, have a good time, then go home and in 10 days they’ve tested positive for the coronavirus,” she said. “When you’re at that festival site, I consider you part of the family. I don’t want a family member getting hurt.”
Self said another factor leading to the decision was a lack of vendors. She said the committee had received several calls from vendors asking it to save their spaces for 2021 as they would not be attending the 2020 festival.
She said the committee is aware of the economic impact the postponement would have on the local economy.
“It bothers me that I’m having to let down the community,” said Self. “Safety is first and foremost. We’ve got to be safe or we’re not going to be here.”
Self encourages the public to visit www.graingercountytomatofestival.com for more information. She said 2020 Tomato Festival knives would still be available for purchase on the website. She advised the public not to visit a Facebook page created under the name “Grainger County Tomato Festival,” as it is not committee-operated.
“It is not our Facebook page. I have nothing against the person who runs it, but she is not even affiliated with the festival,” she said.
Self also asks the public to continue to support tomato farmers. She said when the Tomato Festival first began in 1992, it was to promote Grainger County Tomatoes. She said the tomato farmers are the livelihood of Grainger County.
“They need to support the tomato growers. We’re not going to be there, but that doesn’t mean they can’t support the tomato growers,” said Self. “If we didn’t have the tomatoes, we wouldn’t have a festival.”
The event, which was scheduled to take place Friday, July 24 through Sunday, July 26, was set to celebrate its 28th year.
Self said the Tomato Festival would return in 2021 better than ever.