Updated: July 15, 2013 2:58PM
Chances are that you don’t connect chewing gum or brushing your teeth with Indiana agriculture, yet chances are that the mint flavoring in your gum or toothpaste came from Indiana. Our state is one of the top producers of mint in the United States.
Mint is just one of the reasons for celebration this weekend at the 36th annual North Judson Mint Festival. Another is the 25th anniversary of the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum.
“Mint Fest got started in 1976.” according to Donna Henry, vice president of the festival committee. “It was America’s bicentennial and so many communities all over were celebrating with festivals. Shortly after ours was over some residents thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do something like this every year?’ Then they came up with the idea that a unique thing to celebrate is the local mint production — we were once among the largest producers in the US. And the next year, Mint Fest began.”
Festival goers can learn about mint production on Saturday starting with a short film about the mint industry showing at 1:30 p.m. at the library, 208 Keller Ave., followed by a farm tour at 2 p.m.
“The Wappel Farm, one of our local mint farmers, agreed to have visitors come out and see their operation and tell how mint goes from plants on the farm to oil. Mint oil is very potent so it takes a very small amount to flavor toothpaste, gum and candies,” explained Henry.
Bus seats for the farm tour are first-come, first-served from Keller Avenue near the library.
“Saturday morning is our cooking with mint contest. That’s been a part of the festival almost since the beginning, and even after all these years it’s impressive to see the different variety of dishes — jellies, salads, desserts, and the best lemonade I’ve ever had,” Henry said.
It’s also impressive that contestants have come from as far as Alaska and Hawaii to compete in the cooking with mint categories of: main dishes; appetizers or side dishes; youth to grade 12; and men only. Registration begins at 9 a.m., and judging starts at 11 a.m.
Although mint takes center stage on Saturday, this event has a little something for every taste.
Henry said that families will enjoy the professional puppet shows and magic shows with several performances on Saturday and Sunday. A car show (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.), pie eating contest (11 a.m.), barbershop chorus (2 p.m.) and a frog jumping contest (3 p.m.) on Saturday, and a pet parade (1:30 p.m.) and big parade (3 p.m.) on Sunday are just some of the other highlights of Mint Festival. The weekend also includes a carnival and vendor area plus a variety of musical entertainment beginning at 5 p.m. on Friday and going until 7 p.m. on Sunday.
The Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum, 507 Mulberry St. in North Judson, is just a few blocks away from the downtown festival area. This free museum has over 30 pieces of rolling stock on display in addition to diesel engines, an extensive collection of signals and other equipment, plus historic photographs of the history of railroading in the area.
Several train excursions will run on both Saturday and Sunday during the special 25th anniversary weekend. There will be two 10-mile, 45-minute rides to English Lake, and one 20-mile, approximately 2-hour ride to LaCrosse each day.
Ticket prices range from $5 for children to $19 for adults. The museum recommends purchasing tickets in advance through its website, www.hoosiervalley.org.