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First-Ever Jacksonville GastroFest Draws Thousands Downtown

Updated 5:55 p.m., Sunday, March 22: GastroFest organizers estimate more than 30,000 people flocked to downtown Jacksonville for the first-ever local-food-centric  GastroFest. The event ran until 10 p.m. Saturday. 

Throughout the day, long lines snaked away from the food-tasting tents set up on the edges of Hemming Park.

It you didn’t get there early, you might miss the most popular items, like Moxie Kitchen’s chicken. The restaurant’s Virigina Watts says it was the first item to run out.

“So we went two hours, and the chicken was definitely a best-seller…always is,” she said.

Around the corner on Laura Street, the chickens were luckier. Two egg-laying hens, Honey and Roxy, were cooling themselves under an umbrella.

Genora Crain-Orth calls herself “chicken-owner ‘eggs-tra-ordinaire’” with the group River City Chicks. She advocated for a new city law allowing residents to raise the birds in their yards. A pilot program gave out 300 licenses and will go up for review before City Council this fall. Crain-Orth said she was happy to share her success story at GastroFest.

“It’s so amazing to see people downtown and enjoying it and interacting, and there’s such a wide variety. I mean, there’s obviously the food and the drink, but there’s all the kids’ stuff over here. And it’s just a great opportunity, I think, for people to find out things about the community that they maybe didn’t know about,” she said.

And for those who didn’t make it to GastroFest, the One Sparkcrowdfunding festival is expanding its food offerings this year. That’s two weeks away in downtown Jax.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP