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Edamame Fest slated in Mulberry

<p>From right: Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter and his assistant, Becky Shockley, meet with Lisa Norris, director of the Alma Area Chamber of Commerce, to go over the initial planning stages of the first annual Edamame Festival, to be held March 29 at the Mulberry City Park. This will be the second year Norris has organized Alma’s Spinach Festival, which is held every year.</p>

From right: Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter and his assistant, Becky Shockley, meet with Lisa Norris, director of the Alma Area Chamber of Commerce, to go over the initial planning stages of the first annual Edamame Festival, to be held March 29 at the Mulberry City Park. This will be the second year Norris has organized Alma’s Spinach Festival, which is held every year.

As part of an effort to showcase Mulberry as the “edamame capital” of the United States, the city will have its first ever Edamame Festival March 29 at the Mulberry City Park.

City officials are currently soliciting vendors for the one-day event, scheduled to come directly after the city finishes phase II of its city park development, which will include restrooms and a pavilion, said mayor’s assistant Becky Shockley.

Activities centered around edamame include a shelling contest, recipe contest and edamame eating contest, Shockley said.

There also will be what city officials are calling the “edamame experience” - a booth where festival participants can try the multiple ways edamame is served, Shockley said.

American Vegetable Soybean and Edamame (AVSE), which recently built a facility in Mulberry solely for processing edamame, the first of its kind in the U.S., may help with some of the events, she said.

“AVSE is going to try to help us get some of those interesting products for tasting and showing off,” Shockley said.

Items that may be a part of the experience include edamame flavored ice cream and KitKat candy bars, she said.

A motorcycle show, car show, bass tournament, 5K walk-run, disc golf tournament, carnival rides and bounce around booths for kids also will be part of the event.

Mayor Gary Baxter started forming the idea for the festival in late summer, he said.

“We thought since we had this processing plant here, and it’s doing very well and it’s in the process of expanding…we thought that this would be a good event to have here,” Baxter said.

Since AVSE opened in January 2012, it has brought at least 100 jobs, and will have about 40 more openings after it completes its expansion, Baxter said.

About 900 acres of edamame, a certain variety of immature soybean in the pod that is high in fiber, protein, carbohydrates, vitamin K and other nutrients, has been planted regionally.

Combined with other elements - industries that have moved to Mulberry in recent years, the natural environment, multiple outdoor activities in the area and city improvements such as the city park and new senior center - the development of edamame in the area has encouraged Baxter to showcase his city as a growing and relevant community that places an emphasis on healthy living.

“I just felt since edamame is grown here and processed here we want to highlight that with this event and celebrate the success of edamame,” Baxter said. “It could bring people in and show them what a great area it is right here in Mulberry.”

Area leaders experienced in organizing festivals are helping with the initial steps of planning the event, Shockley said. She also is working on an application for a $5,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Agriculture that can be used toward the event, she said.

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