Banana Festival Returns to West Tennessee, Kentucky

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People in western Kentucky and Tennessee went bananas again last week.

The twin cities of Fulton, Ky., and South Fulton, Tennessee, recently celebrated their 60th annual Banana Festival, marking the city’s historic connection to the railroad and the banana trade.

Located midway between Chicago and New Orleans along the Illinois Central Railroad, Fulton played a crucial role in transporting the berry, often mistaken for a fruit.

Before the days of refrigeration, the community was home to the only icehouse on the northern route. The United Fruit Company, now Chiquita, used to ship its bananas to Fulton on huge blocks of ice, where they would be placed on new blocks and continue their journey to Chicago. At one point, 70% of all bananas sold in the United States passed through Fulton.

The festival attracts thousands of visitors to celebrate this rich tradition with a host of banana-themed events. This year’s celebrations – which took place from September 9 to 17 – included a banana contest, parade, live music, the Banana Cabana, a car show and the making of banana pudding from a ton. In total, more than 7,500 people were present throughout the week.

Rotary Club member Dan Voegeli says the turnout for the festival was the biggest he’s ever seen.

People come from all over the country to show off their classic cars and enjoy the festival,” Voegeli said. “The biggest part of the festival is meeting everyone and seeing everyone come together.”

Festival-goer Shirley Lee, a former employee of the Mayfield candle factory which was destroyed in last December’s tornado. She says the festival is a great way for the community of Fulton – which has also suffered a lot of storm damage – to have fun and get some respite from the struggle they’ve been through.

“There are a lot of places that still need help, but things are starting to bounce back,” Lee said. “We are here to have fun.

The traditionally gigantic banana pudding took a team of almost 30 volunteers to make it this year, with volunteers peeling and slicing bananas, unwrapping vanilla wafers and opening boxes of pudding before assembling everything. All this happens in just one hour.

Nearly 30 volunteers helped prepare the banana pudding at Brooks Chapel Baptist Church in Fulton.

Originally from Fulton, Melanie Gunn helped make banana pudding for four years. She says it’s one of her favorite parts of the festival.

“I like when we serve the pudding,” Gunn said. “At the end of the parade, people line up with their bowls to be served. Making the pudding can sometimes be chaotic if there aren’t enough volunteers, but this year went well.

The hard work of volunteers is distributed in commemorative bowls each year at the end of the parade, which this year moved the big pile of banana pudding onto a train float driven by local charity Shriners.

Festival volunteer and 911 dispatcher for Fulton County, Teresa Decker has been to the festival her entire life and says the county’s unique history is to be treasured.

“The community coming together and showing pride in our city is the best part of the festival,” Decker said. “It seems the city has come together more in recent years to expand the festival.”

Banana Pudding Supervisor Nathan Lamb knows that the pudding is one of the biggest draws of the festival and he hopes the community can continue to outdo themselves and make an even bigger one in the years to come.

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