Sholan Farms Apple Blossom Festival returns after two-year hiatus, new event chairman steps in

LEOMINSTER — Organizers of the 21st annual Sholan Farms Apple Blossom Festival, which runs Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., are thrilled to be able to bring back the popular family event after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

Friends of Sholan Farms chair Joanne DiNardo said maintaining the longevity of the farm and the festival has been “a truly incredible journey for Friends of Sholan Farms and the town of Leominster”.

“The People’s Orchard is thriving in part because of the dedication of our staff and many volunteers,” she said. “I love that we can host a community event that is sure to bring joy to everyone who attends and everyone who helped save this orchard.”

Joanne DiNardo, president of Friends of Sholan Farms, is thrilled that the Apple Blossom Festival returns on May 14. CHERYL CUDDAHY/SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE FILE PHOTO)

The free festival will feature food trucks, local artisans, entertainment, raffles, children’s activities, wagon rides, a new activity, scavenger hunts for kids and adults, and of course the beauties and abundant apple blossoms. Visitors will have the opportunity to release a butterfly as part of a parade celebrating spring or in honor of a loved one for $5 and purchase treats from the confectionery.

“For me, the magic and the excitement start to build in January and builds every step of the way,” DiNardo said. “Size, swelling of buds, flowers and bees.”

The large-scale event requires a plethora of volunteers to make it happen and the generosity of local sponsors. Longtime Friends of Sholan Farms board member Patti LaGrassa is handing over the reins of event chair to Roxanne Chamber after a decade leading the festival and the two women will co-chair this year’s festival so that LaGrassa can show Chamber the ropes.

“Roxanne is the perfect person to take over,” LaGrassa said. “We worked well together and I think the transition is going well. In the future, I will be there to help Roxanne wherever I can. I can’t wait to see new attractions and her ideas to make the Apple Blossom Festival even better.

Chamber has volunteered at the festival for many years and has done various types of volunteer work at the state and national level, primarily related to her work as Senior Director of Medical Personnel Services at Baystate Health in the western part of the state.

“I’m very organized, I’m a people person and I love to plan any type of event,” Chamber said of the skills she brings to the role. “I have a lot of experience in this area and I appreciate it very much. The biggest challenge is to make sure that we have enough volunteers to work at each event.

With temperatures forecast in the mid-80s on Saturday, LaGrassa said he expects good attendance at the festival.

“The weather is looking great for Saturday so I know we’ll have a great turnout,” she said.

Chamber grew up in Leominster and has lived in Ashburnham for 25 years.

“Now that I’m working full-time from my home in Ashburnham, I have more flexibility to get more involved,” she said of what inspired her to step in and take over as as president. “I was hoping to one day get more involved, and this opportunity came at the right time.”

She said she looks forward to all of their planning and hard work “coming to fruition” this weekend, her first event planning experience.

“I will be able to witness all the logistical challenges on the day of the event, which will help me understand how it all works,” Chamber said. “We have new local artisans and food trucks that attendees will enjoy.”

The 21st annual Sholan Farms Apple Blossom Festival returns to Leominster Farm on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.  (FRIENDS COURTESY OF SHOLAN FARMS)
The 21st annual Sholan Farms Apple Blossom Festival returns to Leominster Farm Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. (FRIENDS COURTESY OF SHOLAN FARMS)

She has personal and family ties to the area, which drew her to be part of the farm and the festival.

“My mother was born and raised on a farm in Legate Hill, and she passed away many years ago,” Chamber said. “She would be very happy for me to help preserve a farm in Leominster which is of benefit to the public, especially now due to Covid and the isolation we have all experienced.”

LaGrassa is also from Leominster. She has lived in Sterling for six years and in addition to being the Festival President, she has served as Secretary to the Friends of Sholan Farms Board of Directors for the past ten years.

“I got involved after I retired and was looking for something to keep me busy,” she recalls. “Like everyone at Sholan Farms, I fell in love with it.”

She said one of the challenges they faced when planning this year’s festival was realizing that “several food trucks and vendors have not survived the pandemic” and that “sponsorship and donations are not quite what they were two years ago”.

Despite the obstacles, LaGrassa said she was happy to work through her final year of involvement as president, an event that requires several months of planning.

“The hardest part of being president is delegating the work and hoping it gets done,” she said. “We depend on volunteers from Sholan Farms as a workforce. The other challenge is to hope that every food truck, vendor, performer and attendee shows up and that we have clear skies and little wind.

She said she was happy to pass on the title of president to Chamber.

“After 10 years, it’s time for new people and new ideas.”

DiNardo said they are grateful to the women and other volunteers who donate their time to support the Friends-run municipal property and are grateful to the festival’s “many sponsors”.

“We hope to recruit new volunteers and new Friends are always welcome,” she said. “The Friends of Sholan Farms have built a lasting legacy that will be around long after we are gone.”

Joseph K. Bennett