Celebrating Seafood

Two fall festivals will showcase local clams, crabs, fish, oysters and shrimp.

Arts and Craft s Festival. Photo by Rory Brennan.

Fall in Florida usually brings with it a slight cooling of summer’s hot temperatures and some amazing sunsets. The season always brings with it a variety of festivals to celebrate everything from antiques to zucchini.

Two of the most popular, and longest-running, fall events in this region highlight the delectable seafood that is native to the Big Bend area of our beloved Sunshine State.

The 52nd annual Cedar Key Seafood Festival is set for October 15th and 16th and the 41st annual Yankteetown Art, Crafts & Seafood Festival will take place November 19th and 20th.

Cedar Key Clam Boil. Photo by Rory Brennan.

Cedar Key Seafood Festival
This annual fundraiser is organized by the Cedar Key Lions Club. It includes arts and crafts, entertainment and a parade, but it is best known for the local seafood offerings, which are prepared by people who live on and near the island community.

“This is one of the oldest such festivals in the state,” says club member Rory Brennan. “It started and remains a fundraiser for local nonprofits. There are no outside food vendors. It’s very real, very local.”

“You’ll see Uncle Jimmy frying fish and oystermen cooking oysters,” echoes Anna Hodges, who comes from a family of Cedar Key clammers. She has helped organize the festival for years and is the current executive director of the Cedar Key Historical Society and Museum. “It’s beautiful. Those oystermen will donate those oysters, which have a high value this time year, to sell to keep their association going strong, for example.”

Hodges says the arts and crafts vendors pay the Lions Club for their spaces and that money also goes back to the community.

“This is the biggest fundraiser of the year and helps every nonprofit in Cedar Key,” she shares. “I think this is one of the last festivals where a community comes together and works together for a common cause.”

Spiced Girls Seafood Parade. Photo by Rory Brennan.

The festival will run 10am to 5pm on Saturday, October 15th, with the parade stepping off at 11am. It continues from 10am to 4pm on Sunday, October 16th. The festival occupies parts of State Route 24, which is the only road onto the island, as well as most of Second Street and Beach Front City Park. The island is 50 miles southwest of Gainesville.

Festival admission is free. Some free parking is available. Some area organizations and individuals may offer parking for a fee.

Festival Food in the Park vendors only accept cash. Other vendors accept cash, checks and credit cards, however, because the microwave tower sometimes get overloaded, mobile credit card units may not work.

To learn more, go to FB.com/cedarkeylions

Yankeetown Art, Crafts & Seafood Festival
The Inglis/Yankeetown Lions Club organizes this event.

“It’s in the quaint town of Yankeetown, with beautiful tree-lined streets on the edge of the Withlacoochee River,” shares Steve Norton, chairman of this year’s festival. “We have unique arts and crafts, such as artistic driftwood and custom furniture. One guy who build birdhouses actually lives on the festival site. And, of course, we’ll have delicious seafood and other festival delicacies, like gyros and funnel cakes.”

Proceeds from the festival, which includes live entertainment, support charitable causes such as the Lions Club’s Eyesight Assistance Program.

The festival site is 6301 Riverside Drive, Yankeetown. Admission is free. There will be free and paid parking. Hours are 9am to 5pm on Saturday, November 19th and 9am to 4pm on Sunday, November 20th.

To learn more, go to yankeetownseafoodfestival.com or leave a message at 352-505-7936 to receive a return call.

Sunset cast netting. Courtesy of Levy County Visitors Bureau.

Visiting the Nature Coast
The Levy County Visitors Bureau offers a wealth of information about the many activities along the Big Bend area, which includes Cedar Key and Yankeetown, both in Levy County. The area has a long history of reliance on shellfish, such as oysters, crabs, shrimp and clams. Today, clam aquaculture has replaced gill net fishing as the mainstay for many watermen.

As you stroll the neighborhoods of these coastal towns, a common site will be stacked crab traps. Succulent clams, freshly shucked oysters, soft shell crab or stone crab claws can be found on many menus. And, with every bite, you get a taste of the sea and a sense of history.

To learn more, go to visitnaturecoast.com

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