GREENFIELD — This is the 40th year for the Greenfield Strawberry Festival, which returns to downtown Greenfield this Friday, June 14.

The annual tradition runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the parking lot at the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and Main streets, across the street from Bradley United Methodist Church.

The historic church took the festival over from the original organizer, First Presbyterian Church, which handed over the reins when it closed its doors in 2021.

Dennis Whitson, 79, was in his early 40s when he started volunteering for the festival in the mid-1980s.

He joined a group of fellow First Presbyterian members in preparing the ingredients. The men would go out into the country to pick the strawberries by hand while the women baked hundreds of shortcakes in the church kitchen.

“They used the recipe from the back of a Bisquick box,” said Whitson, who has attended the festival every single year.

Bradley church member Kathy Locke said today’s volunteers still use the exact same recipe, just prepared in a slightly different way.

For years, members of First Presbyterian church prepared pound after pound of strawberries and shortcake to serve with ice cream at the church’s annual Strawberry Festival. Before First Presbyterian closed in July 2020, its members handed the festival off to a neighboring downtown Greenfield church, Bradley United Methodist Church. Daily Reporter file photo

While the price charged for the strawberry shortcakes has gone up over the years — now $8 — so too has the number of people scrambling to snag one of the sweet treats each year.

“Every year we’ve been very surprised that we’ve sold out very quickly,” said Julie Rogers, who co-chairs the event this year.

“The last two years we ran out of shortcake but we still had some ice cream and strawberries left so we offered sundaes,” she said.

As the festival has grown, so too has the team of volunteers.

“It’s a big production. We have people in charge of seven or eight different areas, like marking and advertising, purchase and prep, setup and closing, volunteers and scheduling, sponsorships, and the finance and ticket sales part,” Rogers said.

She said 24 volunteers each work a three-hour shift the week of the festival making 2,500 shortcakes from scratch.

Locke said her team purchases 60 gallons of vanilla ice cream and 700 pounds of strawberries.

Another team of volunteers works in assembly-line fashion at the event, scooping ice cream and strawberries atop the shortcakes as patrons wait for their turn for a taste.

Locke said last year’s event netted about $20,000 in proceeds from shortcake sales and sponsorships.

Of those proceeds, $19,200 was divided among eight local nonprofits, which received $2,400 each. The rest was reserved for supplies this year.

Locke said a committee votes on the recipients, which were the same last year as they are this year: Bradley UMC Preschool; Friends of Hancock County CASA; Hancock County Food Pantry; Hope House; Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen; The Landing Place; Love INC; and Talitha Koum Women’s Recovery House.

Whitson said he’s thrilled to see the strawberry festival continuing to thrive, especially since it’s benefiting so many organizations in the community.

He commended the members of Bradley United Methodist Church for taking hover the time honored event.

“They’ve done well. I’m glad they continued the tradition,” he said.

“I think it’s something the people of Greenfield look forward to. It got started when two or three of the members of our church were looking for a community activity. Not something solely for the church but for the community,” said Whitson.

“It got started in our (First Presbyterian) parking lot,” he recalled.

“It was pretty small at first, and moved from there to the Courthouse Square. It was there for a number of years and then moved to the parking lot across from the church, which used to be the Ranch Supermarket parking lot.”

One of the people who helped entertain at the festival decades ago — a local accordion player — still plays at the festival today, said Whitson, who lives in New Palestine.

It’s been nearly 40 years since Whitson first joined his fellow church members in picking strawberries from the vine, then returning to the church where they would wash and slice the berries by hand.

“There was a lot of fellowship during those hours we spent getting ready for the festival. You always ended up talking and having a good time,” he said.

Conversation and camaraderie are what the timeless tradition of the strawberry festival is all about, said Whitson.

“People enjoy getting together and having a little bit of conversation with each other,” he said, but doing so over a delicious dish of strawberry shortcake certainly sweetens the experience.

The 40th annual Greenfield Strawberry Festival takes place 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. this Friday, June 14, or until supplies run out. The event is held in the parking lot just south of Bradley United Methodist Church, at 210 W. Main St. in downtown Greenfield.

The cost is $8 at the door. Cash is preferred but credit cards are accepted.