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Chicken festival to benefit environmental programs
20 competitors in cook-off this year
Tracy Troutman, Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School teacher, helps fourth-grader Ivette Ibarra try on a hat made out of a recycled milk carton. Students from the school will walk in the Spring Chicken Festival parade Saturday, wearing these type of hats. - photo by Tom Reed

Spring Chicken Festival

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Downtown Gainesville
How much: Free family activities; cook-off sampling wristbands are $8 for adults, $5 for children
Contact: 770-531-1102

No one may be able to pinpoint why the chicken crossed the road, but Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School students can at least answer how it looked during the process.

The school's students and staff are busy working on a float for Saturday's Spring Chicken Festival parade.

"When I was told that we would have to combine Fair Street, recycling and poultry into one float, I thought, ‘Boy, there's a challenge,'" said Tracy Troutman, a pre-kindergarten teacher at the Fair Street school.

The annual festival is organized by Keep Hall Beautiful, with proceeds benefiting the organization's environmental education programs and community beautification efforts.

Since the organization is all about helping people think "green," or more environmentally sound, festival organizers stipulated that all of the floats for the parade had to be made from at least 60 percent recycled or re-purposed materials.

"We're big on recycling here, so that wasn't the tough part," Troutman said.

"I knew what I wanted the float to look like, but the real challenge was pulling it all together."

After a field trip to the Hall County Recycling Center to pick up a few dozen empty milk jugs to create chicken hats for students to wear in the parade and a couple of other recyclables, Troutman and her team went to work.

"It's going to be a big chicken. We're going to tie a bunch of white, grocery bags to a rope to create wings and the children are going to walk beside it in their hats," Troutman said.

The school's mascot, a tiger, will be riding on the over-sized chicken.

The parade will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at the SunTrust Bank on Washington Street. The parade's 25 floats will circle the downtown square, before ending up back at the bank.

Although Hall County poultry-themed parades date back to the 1950s, this is the first time one has been associated with the chicken festival, said Rick Foote, the county's natural resources coordinator.

Foote actually came up with the idea for the chicken festival — and its hallmark chicken cook-off — seven years ago.

And it's all thanks to satellite TV.

"Satellite TV really exposed me to all kinds of programs and channels that weren't available before. One of those was a food channel," Foote said.

"I was watching one day and they had a cake bake off and then there was a cowboy cook-off where the competitors had to cook over an open fire like the cowboys used to. I thought the cook-off was a pretty cool idea.

"And then I thought about the fact that Gainesville doesn't have a real festival celebrating what we're famous for. When you think Hall County, you think ‘poultry capital of the world,' but we didn't have a festival celebrating that."

The rest is history.

This year, there are 20 competitors vying for the right to have their chicken declared the best.

"Our cook-off format is unlike any other that I'm aware of. Usually in these competitions, the teams are preparing food strictly for the judges," Foote said.

"But our cook-off is very interactive. Everyone attending will have the opportunity to taste the same chicken that the judges are getting."

For tasting rights, attendees can purchase an $8 wristband for adults or a $5 one for kids.

"There's always the possibility of us selling out. If we have more people in attendance than we can feed, we'll stop selling the wristbands," Foote said.

 "Usually, it has been very well balanced and we haven't had to do that, but there's always the possibility.

The cook-off will be held on the downtown square from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, but even if you miss out on sampling the chicken, there are still a number of other entertainment options.

"The Hall County Quilt Guild has added a new aspect this year. In addition to the quilt show at the Georgia Mountains Center, they will also be doing quilting demonstrations throughout the day," Foote said.

"One of the techniques that they'll be demonstrating is how to make a T-shirt quilt. Now you can put those drawers full of T-shirts to use."

There will also be live music and a children's area at Roosevelt Square.


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