Gainesville has been touted as the poultry capital of the world for as long as residents can remember, so for the 10th year in a row, the city is celebrating this fame with the annual Spring Chicken Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday on the downtown square.
The festival begins early in the morning with a 5-kilometer race sponsored by the Lanier Running Club. The race begins at Recess on Bradford Street and will head through midtown Gainesville and across the pedestrian bridge before ending up back downtown.
As the 5K winds down, the festival officially kicks off with the Chicken City Parade around the square featuring floats, performers and more.
“The parade celebrates the chicken festival and our poultry industry and is kind of the opening to the chicken cook-off,” said Regina Mansfield of Main Street Gainesville. “We encourage the floats to use recycled, repurposed or green items. And this year we have some special surprises at the end of the parade, but I can’t give away secrets.”
Following the parade, the main event — the chicken cook-off — gets underway and competition for the Chicken City Cup begins.
This year’s cook-off features 14 teams that will cook more than 5,000 pounds of chicken for festival attendees and the judges that will decide a winner.
“This is more than we have ever had in the past,” Mansfield said. “They range from backyard barbecue to professional teams, and those are the two divisions, but they compete together for the grand champion award.”
The overall champions walk away with $1,000 and their names on the Chicken City Cup, but not before an intensive judging process for all chicken entries.
“It’s a double-blind judging,” Mansfield said. “A runner takes the entries from the teams to the judging room off-site, and the judges are trained to Kansas City Barbecue Association standards.”
Cook teams have entries ranging from wings to chicken chili to chicken salad. Folks who wish to sample some of the goods can do so for $5 each.
“Last year was the first year we had the Cluck Card,” Mansfield said. “It’s about the size of a credit card and has places for 10 punches, so $5 for the card gets you 10 samples, and teams punch the card.”
In true chicken festival spirit, the first 25 people who attend the festival dressed as a chicken will receive two free Cluck Cards. The festival also offers a family special with a buy four get one free deal.
Later in the afternoon, Buffalo Wild Wings is sponsoring a wing-eating contest. Participants can pre-register to compete or sign up at the information table Saturday morning.
For those without a competitive spirit, the Re-Hatched shopping market will be in full swing throughout the day with creative crafts and other goods for purchase.
“This year we have nearly 20 vendors, and each vendor has to have a percentage of their pieces made from recycled, repurposed or green items,” Mansfield said. “There is pallet furniture, paper beads, melted stained glass and more quality items. This year we decided to take a portion of the vendor fees and work with Quinlan (Visual Arts Center) to send kids to art camp.”
The all-day event will have live music, entertainment and a festival-wide rendition of the Chicken Dance.
For more information, find the Spring Chicken Festival on Facebook. To register for the 5K, please visit www.active.com and search for the Spring Chicken Festival 5K.