By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
It’s time for Bloomin’ Festival! If you’ve been cooped up all winter and you are now ready for spring and some time in the great outdoors, with lots of exciting things to do and see, this is the event for you!
April 20-21, 2013, marks the 29th year for the annual Bloomin’ Festival Arts and Crafts Fair. People from all over the Southeast and beyond look forward with anticipation to the popular event held in Cullman, Alabama.
“Bloomin’ Fest” is a two-day juried arts festival attracting thousands of visitors to the beautiful 100-year-old campus of St. Bernard Abbey and Preparatory School. Located adjacent to the school is the world famous Ave Maria Grotto. The picturesque landscape of stone cut buildings on the grounds of Alabama's only Abbey provides a backdrop for the out-of-doors show. More than 140 booths are filled with artists demonstrating and exhibiting their work. The festival is the largest fundraiser annually for the operation and maintenance of the school.
Festival Director Joyce Nix describes how the Bloomin’ Fest originated, "We wanted to do something that would showcase our community and help our school,” said Nix. “We already had Ave Maria Grotto, a folk art park within itself, so why not showcase that facility with the beautiful grounds as well as host an arts festival?"
And that’s just what they did, with much success. People were enthusiastic about the event from its conception, and have continued to attend and support Bloomin’ Fest for a variety of reasons.
Many are nature lovers who come to see the hundreds of dazzling azaleas in full bloom. There are also native dogwoods, snowball bushes, and many other lovely plants in a natural setting which frames the Grotto.
Others love the mouth-watering festival foods. You get a whiff of all the good things in store as you stroll through the neatly displayed booths.
Food is provided solely by St. Bernard Prep School. The menu consists of Southern- style pinto beans, served with old-timey hoe cakes cooked on-site with freshly ground cornmeal. Then there’s everyone’s favorite BBQ chicken, spicy polish sausages, juicy hotdogs, great hamburgers, melt-in-your-mouth funnel cakes, tempting strawberry waffles, fresh squeezed lemonade, and plenty of ice cold Pepsi!
Many folks come out for the music, and others enjoy browsing through the immaculate grounds, searching out their favorite vendors, or to meet with friends and to soak up the convivial atmosphere of the festival.
Lots of people wait until this weekend to purchase plants from the Cullman County Master Gardeners Association, who always show up with literally hundreds of lovely flowering plants, herbs and vegetables, for their biggest annual fundraiser. There will also be several knowledgeable Master Gardeners on hand to help you select the perfect plants for your location.
It’s easy to see why the Southeastern Tourism Society has once again recognized this popular event as one of the “Top 20 Events In The Southeast.”
This year promises to be one of the best ever, with 150 vendor booths, which have been sold out since early in the season.
The beautiful campus of St. Bernard Preparatory School and Abbey will be filled with these talented vendors displaying everything from handcrafted pottery and coin jewelry to children and ladies clothing, birdhouses, fashion accessories, metal art, leather, stoneware baskets, homegrown plants, toys, Dahlia bulbs, art in several mediums, ceramics, candles, soap and many more items.
Live demonstrations will include grinding corn meal and sampling hoe cakes, glassblowing, broom making, and one of Cullman County’s own blacksmiths, Allan Kress, who will be on hand to give people a glimpse of his tradecraft in action.
Parents, monks, students and friends of St. Bernard Prep are gearing up to assist visitors with parking, concessions, train rides, and environmental control.
A 5K and 10K race will be held on the wooded trails of campus on Saturday, April 20, beginning at 7:30 a.m. Awards will be presented to the overall male and female winners; masters male and female winners; and first- and second-place age group winners. Entry fee is $25 if received by 4/16; or $30 on race day.
To register go to www.bloominfestival.com — or drop by the school to complete an application.
At the conclusion of the show on Sunday evening at 5 p.m., a drawing for the festival grand prize will be held. St. Bernard Prep, in a partnership with Cullman Dodge, will be giving away a 2013 Jeep Patriot, Kindle Fire HD 7”, Canon digital camera, Garmin Nuvi GPS, and an Apple Ipod Shuffle.
One of Cullman’s most popular tourist attractions is the beautiful Ave Maria Grotto, which is open the entire weekend for a low admission price of only $3 per person. Admission to the festival is $5.
Hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, rain or shine. All proceeds benefit St. Bernard Preparatory School. For more information and to see a list of vendors, visit www.bloominfestival.com or check out www.facebook.com/bloominfestival.