Never underestimate the South's love for okra. This weekend saw the 42nd annual Okra Strut in Irmo, South Carolina, a local festival harkening back to the city's okra-farming past. Irmo's biggest city-sponsored event of the year, the Okra Strut was a success yet again, featuring food, rides and live music. While the actual okra component of the Strut was downplayed aside from a giant, anthropomorphic piece of okra, attendees seemed pleased with the variety of non-okra themed activities that were available.
The Okra Strut began on Friday evening, with live music by local band Tokyo Joe, who paid tribute to Elton John by performing “Rocket Man.” The centerpiece of the celebration didn't come until Saturday morning: the Okra Strut Parade. Featuring more than 100 floats, the parade gave local businesses, school groups and community organizations an opportunity to showcase what they do for the Irmo and Columbia areas. Okra eating contests were also held on both Friday and Saturday, with contestants competing to dethrone reigning champion, Okra Winfrey, for the title of top okra-eater.
The festival featured a wide variety of high quality thrill rides and a large number of food vendors, who sold fair food like funnel cakes and cotton candy, as well as traditional Southern food like barbecue, and of course, fried okra, which has been made by the Lake Murray-Irmo Woman’s Club The group founded the Okra Strut in 1973 as a fundraiser for a new library. The festival has come a long way since its 1973 iteration, which was little more than a small, indoor arts and crafts sale.
To alleviate Irmo’s admittedly miserable parking situation, the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission provided shuttles to and from the Okra Strut this year, making attending the festival more manageable while impressing the Irmo townspeople with a level of organization not always seen in towns of Irmo’s size.
According to the Woman’s Club representative selling fried okra at this year’s Strut, okra — in any form — helps prevent heart disease and cancer. Although there may not be confirmed evidence to support this claim, the okra was definitely delicious, and the Okra Strut is definitely an underappreciated gem of Southern food festivals. If you’re still in the area next year, be sure not to miss it.