This year’s Woodleaf Tomato Festival will be held from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18, at Unity Presbyterian Church, 885 Woodleaf-Barber Road, Cleveland. 

The festival is a free, family focused all-day event now in its 12th year. It is always held on the third Saturday in August, determined to be the time when the tomato farmers in the community are between their first and second crops of the season and have time to attend. 

Proceeds go to Unity Church and mission work. Tomatoes are grown in Woodleaf from spring until October. Festival planners say that it was just after the turn of the century when brothers Hubbard and Radford Bailey began farming tomatoes for market. The Baileys called the rich soil of Woodleaf, perfect for tomato growing, “brown sugar.” The church has records that state that a good part of their crop was hauled by one-horse wagon to Statesville.

Woodleaf Tomato Festival Horse

Today, tomato farming is a multi-million dollar crop in western and southern Rowan County.

The Tomato Festival parade will begin at 10 a.m. using a route on Woodleaf-Barber Road from the Woodleaf Volunteer Fire Department to Unity Church. Anyone who wants to be in the quarter-mile parade should be at the fire department, located on Hwy 801, by 9:30 a.m. The parade features antique cars and tractors, horses, and others who promote tomatoes. 

The stage, erected in the historic church yard in front of a large shade tent furnished by the Lazy 5 Ranch, will be busy all day with live entertainment and children’s contests such Little’Mater Blossom, Little Miss Tomato Sprout, and Little Tommy Toe. There is a tomato eating contest, a best-tasting tomato contest, and a tomato recipe cook-off contest. 

There is a silent auction, a yard sale, a children’s play area, including a bouncy house; a Tomato Hole tournament (think corn hole); bake sales, and booths with ice cream, salsa, and ham biscuits. The West Rowan High School FFA will sell hot dogs and hamburgers in the church picnic area. Of special interest: Church members prepare the traditional tomato sandwiches, selling them as fast as they can get the tomato slices between two pieces of bread.

Fresh vegetables and fruits from nearby farms are always a big hit. Craftsmen will demonstrate of their work. 

Woodleaf’s “Home Grown da’Maters,” a dance team, will perform. Festival-goers wear tomato shirts and tomato hats, turning the church yard into a sea of red.  The “Big Tomato,” a giant 10-foot inflatable tomato donated to the festival by Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten, will be on site. It’s a favorite picture-taking spot.
Competition will be held to name a new Woodleaf mayor, chosen by the candidate who raises the most money. It is a great political job: There are no responsibilities, except a love of all things tomato. Woodleaf is unincorporated so it is all in fun.

Proceeds from the church fund-raiser helped pay for a new fellowship hall and continue to be used for Unity Church and other mission work. 

Unity Presbyterian Church is located at 885 Woodleaf-Barber Road, Cleveland, just off N.C. 801 in northwest Rowan County, some 30-40 miles from Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro.