In its 10th year, the Popcorn Festival of Clay County started as small as a kernel and has since popped into a large, buttery event.
In 2002, area resident Kenny Pickett got a group of locals together, asking them to help in putting together a popcorn festival for Clay County.
After some research, the group was able to get ConAgra Foods, which produced Orville Redenbacher popcorn products, to donate $10,000 to start the festival.
According to Popcorn Festival Marketing Director Glen Brown, the group of individuals, including Brown, put together a board of members and set up bylaws for the organization. The board then discussed the festival demographics while meeting at the Clay County YMCA once a month. The board became members of the Indiana State Festival Association, and many attended training seminars.
The board elected officers and decided they wanted to put a festival together in less than one year. Many different organizations came together to complete the goal.
"We hooked up with the Marion, Ohio, Popcorn Festival," Brown said. "They were so instrumental in telling us how to handle the festival and how to run it. They adopted us and are now our sister popcorn festival."
Brown said the Ohio board members really helped, and since then, the Popcorn Festival of Clay County has greatly blossomed.
In its first year, the Popcorn Festival had an estimated 4-5,000 visitors. In 2011, the festival had grown to approximately 18-20,000 visitors.
The Popcorn Festival had a total of 10 members when it first began. Now the festival has an estimated 30 board members. Also, in 2002 the Popcorn Festival was a two-and-a-half day event. Now, it has grown into a four-day event, starting on Thursday.
The festival includes food and craft vendors, as well as flea market items.
"It's unique because we do not duplicate vendors," Brown told The Brazil Times. "There's no competition between vendors and they will want to come back the next year because they know they are the only one selling that item."
The festival also provides a venue for non-profit organizations to sell items or educate the public on their cause.
"We wanted quality vendors from the very first year," Brown said. "We love our food vendors, and we are really pleased with the non-profits who have joined the group."
Since the beginning, the board wanted the festival to have an emphasis on local music and bands.
"Festivals come alive with music," Brown said. "Festivals without music don't have the exciting effect."
Two years ago, the board approved the Corn Stock Fest, a music event within the Popcorn Festival. Local, cover and tribute bands can all use the venue to perform. This year, Corey Cox, a nationally known country western singer, will perform. Cox performed at the Super Bowl last year.
"We try to make the festival the best ever," Brown said. "We have the best amusement rides, best of local talent, dance studios and bands."
Other than food vendors and music performances, the Popcorn Festival also offers plenty of popcorn. The board hands out free popcorn throughout the entire event. The festival offers a popcorn-eating contest and a world-renown Orville Redenbacher look-a-like contest.
"We're the only festival with such a contest," Brown said. "We try to keep the festival as corny as possible."
The Popcorn Festival of Clay County has been featured on the Food Network twice, as well as the NPR station across Indiana.
"We are really growing," Brown said. "We hope in 20 years we are going to be bringing in big name bands and rocking the county."
This year, the board expects somewhere between 20-22,000 visitors. But the festival couldn't take place without the help of volunteers.
"People are always wanting to volunteer, which we love," Brown said. "Volunteers are wonderful, and we have to give a lot of credit to our sponsor. Every year, it just amazes us how much support we get from the Wabash Valley."
Most of the festival's events are free. Brown told The Brazil Times the only parts of the festival someone would have to spend money on are the amusement rides or if someone wants to buy food or souvenirs.
This year, the Popcorn Festival of Clay County takes place Oct. 4-7, at Forest Park.
"It's only as good as the people who attend," Brown said. "We have been blessed that it keeps growing."