AVE MARIA — All the regulars at the Farm City Barbecue know to wear jeans and boots, but you still see some folks dressed in suits and skirts.
More than 750 Collier County residents came out to the barbecue at Ave Maria around lunchtime Wednesday for some grilled steak, corn, baked beans, Immokalee salad and loads of local camaraderie.
The barbecue, which gives local farmers and city folks a chance to mix and mingle, is a more than 35-year-old tradition in Collier. Attendees gathered around tables made of stacked wooden pallets to talk, catch up with old friends and of course eat.
“My favorite part about it is meeting everybody and seeing everybody because a lot of people you don’t see for years,” said Edward “Ski” Olesky, who owns Lake Trafford Marina in Immokalee and has been coming to the event since 1990. “It’s just the camaraderie and the stuff like that, that I really enjoy.”
Several of the Farm City Barbecue veterans say that Don Landers, who was a Collier County agricultural agent and a member of the Rotary Club of Naples, established the event in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. Landers is said to have hoped the social event would promote relationships and an understanding between local farmers and city residents, who might not know anything about where their fruits and vegetables come from.
“It’s a good blend for agriculture and business to get together,” said Don Berry, who has been coming to the event since 1975. “What better time than at Thanksgiving to give thanks for the many blessings that we’ve been given.”
The location of the event, whose proceeds benefit the Collier County 4-H Club Foundation and the Leadership Collier Foundation, used to alternate between Immokalee and Naples, but this is the second year it has been held in between at Ave Maria.
Leadership Collier offers programs designed to hone the skills of key leaders for the purpose of discussing challenges and opportunities facing the community, and 4-H is a youth development and education organization.
“The Farm City Barbecue, I love (it) because it shows people where their food comes from,” said Janet DeLiso, a 4-H leader who brought her sons, Jimmy, 11, and Mark, 7, and their pig and chickens to the event with her. “People think that 4-H is only about animals, but it’s not. There are a lot of other” programs.
The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce presented the barbecue, which also featured a raffle for prizes and brown paper bags filled with locally grown vegetables and tomatoes, which sold for $10 apiece.
Leadership Collier decided to start the raffle to raise extra money after Hurricane Wilma destroyed many local crops in 2005, and there weren’t any vegetables available to be sold at the event.
Tickets to the event cost $20, and in the past five years the event has raised roughly $75,000.
“This is one of the, if not the most important event of the year (in the Naples community) as far as I’m concerned,” said Berry, who appreciates the camaraderie the event develops between county residents.
Local celebrities such as Naples Mayor Bill Barnett and County Manager Leo Ochs served food to all the barbecue-goers.
“It’s just an amazing community feel-good event, and it always has been,” said Barnett, who served the Immokalee salad, which is a giant mix of tomatoes, green peppers, olives and cucumbers served out of what looked like a baby pool. “You see people that haven’t seen each other in maybe a year or two years, and you see them smiling and giving each other a hug.”
Barnett, who has been coming to the event for more years than he can remember, said he loves the event’s setting.
“You do learn that people have some pretty good appetites on the day before Thanksgiving,” Barnett said.