No more 'Mater Fest

Canton group cancels annual Mountain 'Mater Festival
By DeeAnna Haney | Apr 04, 2014
Ruth Harris, Carole Edwards, Jessalyn Rathbone, Deborah Reed, Dennis Reed and Todd Franklin, all members of FOCUS on Canton, sell t-shirts and tomatoes at last year's festival.

For the past 10 years, the first weekend in August has marked a time when locals celebrated their love of a favorite area harvest during the Mountain Mater Festival in downtown Canton.

But this year will be different after FOCUS on Canton, the volunteer group which created and sponsors the event, recently announced the festival will not be held this year.

Thousands have flocked to the two-day festival over the years to listen to live music, play games, shop local vendors, participate in tomato-eating contests and, of course, get their fill of the famous tomato pie from The Moose Lodge.

Every year brought something new — last year's festival featured pig races, a train ride for the kids, a giant pinball machine and live cooking demonstrations from regionally renowned Chef Bruce Brown. The backbone of the festival was the thousands of tomatoes for sale, which were always donated by the bushel from JW Johnson's Bethel farm.

The 'Mater Festival was the brainchild of Sherri Ray and Neal McCracken in 2003.

"We felt like there needed to be more things going on downtown. Things were happening all around us and nothing was happening here," Ray said in an interview last year.

Traditionally, the festival has been held in the area of downtown Canton known as Sorrells Street Park and was held once at the recreation park because of bridge work. What started as a small festival intended to attract more people to Canton grew in popularity each year.

It was already expected that "Mater Fest would happen again this year. During the most recent Board of Aldermen meeting, FOCUS president Deborah Reed announced that the festival would take place Aug. 1 and 2. But recent unforeseen health problems have forced several FOCUS members to leave the group, dropping the number of members from about 12 to only six.

Reed said the decision to cancel the festival was made during the FOCUS meeting Tuesday night. As Reed put it, "FOCUS is just refocusing."

She said with a new Board of Aldermen and a new town manager beginning work soon, it seems like a good time for the organization to find a new direction.

A press release from FOCUS said, "After much deliberation, our dedicated group of volunteers have made the decision to place their energy and concentration on sponsoring several new and fun events for the town of Canton this year."

The community can still count on the popular Breakfast with Santa event in December as well as another carnival June 18 through 22. They may also bring back the children's Halloween event called Hocus Pocus.

Reed said she doesn't want to "let the cat out of the bag" quite yet about some of the other events FOCUS is considering, but she does want people to know that the group intends to plan events that are more community centered.

"We are truly excited about our new course. We are looking forward to bringing a variety of new events for all ages to our community," Reed said.

FOCUS is still in need of volunteers. Those interested may attend FOCUS meetings on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Papertown Grill, 153 Main St., Canton.