Amanda Townsend’s bright red cowboy boots flashed beneath her blue jeans as she hurried along a sidewalk leading to the annual Farm City Barbecue in East Naples early Wednesday afternoon.
Townsend, Collier County’s director of Domestic Animal Services, said the event has become a happy tradition for her the past several years.
“It’s an excuse to wear boots and jeans to work one day a year,” she joked. “Actually, I like to buy some vegetables because they’re delicious, but you also get to see folks you haven’t seen in maybe a year.”
Townsend was one of more than 1,200 Collier residents who attended the 56th annual barbecue, held under two tents from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the grounds of Physicians Regional-Collier Boulevard.
Like Townsend, many in the crowd wore flashy cowboy boots and jeans. Some had cowboy hats, while others wore business suits as they spent their lunch hour under the tents.
All of the attendees paid $20 for the lunch of grilled steak, fresh corn on the cob and cool salads comprised of Immokalee cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.
They stood to eat at 70 high tables made from produce pallets and listened to the raucous country music that blared from tall speakers placed around the rustic dining area.
“The food is great, it’s definitely a great event,” said Jordan Lyon, an employee of Collier Health Services Pediatric Dental Clinic. He came with co-workers Darel Cruz and Xiomara Lopez.
“It’s our first time and we came because we were invited at our job,” he said. “We’re going to have to go back to work, but I would definitely come again.”
Cyndee Woolley, chairwoman of Farm City Barbecue, said she expected first-timers like Lyon would help the this year’s event break attendance records and raise about $25,000 for three county youth organizations.
“We’re around 1,200 right now,” she said at 1 p.m. “Our record is about 1,100 and we usually have about 1,000.”
Bart Zino, an event organizer who heads up the grilling team each year, said his team of volunteers would cook 1,200 pounds of high choice Iowa sirloin during the event, compared to 1,000 pounds most years.
Farm City Barbecue rotates locations between Naples and Immokalee each year and is meant to build bonds between the region’s urban dwellers, local governments and agricultural industry.
Volunteer servers include city council members, county commissioners, school board members and other government officials.
“I get to see a lot of friendly faces, some I don’t get to see the rest of the year,” said Jennifer Edwards, Collier supervisor of elections. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to wish the community a Happy Thanksgiving.”
Edwards said this year’s event was her tenth. She handed out rolls at the end of one of two long banquet lines.
Theo Etzel, one of the sweaty volunteers working the grills, said volunteering the event helps give him perspective leading up to the holiday.
“It’s a wonderful time to give thanks for the Immokalee community,” he said. “We acknowledge the importance of the farming community and the bounty we have here.”