Located in the middle of the west coast of Florida, approximately 25 miles east of Tampa and 70 miles west of Orlando, you’ll find Plant City. The City, a quaint town of 28.43 square miles, adopted the theme of “Embracing the Future While Preserving the Past” to capture the resident’s desire to adapt and plan for expected growth while protecting the enduring assets and hometown charm of Plant City.
If you live in Tampa or the surrounding areas, you may know Plant City as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the world. But that was not always the case. Originally, Plant City was an influential industry for lumber, cotton, citrus, and cattle. However, after the big freeze of 1800, farmers faced numerous challenges. So a small group started growing berry plants. To their surprise, the plants were resilient to the frost and cold weather, making production more efficient.
When Henry Plant settled the town over 100 years ago, he quickly realized that constructing a railroad linking Plant City and Tampa would allow the strawberry farmers to sell their berries to a much larger audience. Eventually, it merged with the South Florida Railroad, became a part of the Plant System in 1893, and then the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1902.
In March of 1930, the farmers, grateful for the economic impact of the berries, started the first Florida Strawberry Festival.
Fast forward 92 years, the Strawberry Festival is still going strong. The 11-day festival brings together food, music, education, and agriculture, attracting as many as 600,000 visitors to Plant City (The town’s residential population is around 40,000).
However, if you think Plant City is strictly about strawberries, think again. The town is growing and attracting younger visionaries looking to diversify and expand the town offerings while maintaining the City’s charm.
Vicky Saunders is one of them. I had the pleasure of meeting her when she worked for an agency that developed the branding for the Mercantile. If you follow our Instagram feed, you may have seen posts about the booth I have there. Vicky would often stop by to take photos of merchandise for the Mercantile’s website, and during her visits, I had the opportunity to get to know her.
Around that same time, she founded MAKE Plant City, a movement to educate the public about local Plant City businesses and creative influencers. Her passion for Plant City, and the people that live and work there, is evident when you talk to her, follow her on social media, or meet her for coffee at Krazy Kup (she knew just about everyone in there when I met her for our interview). She and her husband Arley use every chance they get to bring awareness of all the fantastic things happening within the Plant City limits. Showing outsiders, while farming and strawberries is an essential foundation, it’s only one of many layers in this vibrant community.
She’s such a delight to know, and we are excited to feature her as one of our Local Revivalists. So please continue reading below to learn more about Vicky and the place she loves to call home.
Scroll down for my interview with Vicky Smude…
Vicky, please tell me a little about yourself are you a Plant City native?
I am not a Plant City native, but I grew up not too far away–just next door in Lakeland.
How did you make your way to Plant City?
My now-husband, Arley Smude, grew up here in Plant City, and while we were long-distance when we first started dating, we decided to grow our roots here when he moved back home from traveling for work for many years.
Where do you work and what are your hobbies?
I dabble in a few things. I went to school for radiology and have been doing CT scans for 10 years. I was going to go to school for my master’s in Physician Assistant but decided (with the helpful push from a couple of friends) to pursue a career in social media marketing. I didn’t have a background in marketing but started IGersPlantCity and grew to be very passionate about social marketing. After a few years of working with agencies, I branched out on my own to pursue freelance work. Which I have been doing for the past 4 or 5 years.
Recently, I decided to lean in on another passion I’ve been putting on the back burner for some time–art. While I am used to painting with acrylics and watercolor, I learned how to create digital illustrations during the pandemic and illustrated my first book that will be coming soon in 2022. The book will be a whimsical and fun alphabet book about chonky cats called @thechonkycollection.
What is it about Plant City that you fell in love with?
The community. Plant City is a small town, but it has a big community full of fun traditions and people who love to support locals. The people, the business owners, the movers, and the shakers are what really stood out to me and what I love about this place. I love that if you can dream it, you can do it.
How has Plant City changed from when you first moved there to today?
When we first moved here, we didn’t know what to do, anything about local events, or where to look for this information. So we decided to start an Instagram feed highlighting the things, places, and events that make Plant City unique. That’s where IGersPlantCity came into play. Even though we have been around for a few years, we still have people comment, “I never knew this existed!” Including long-time residents!
After starting IGersPlantCity, we wanted to get more involved in the local art scene. And while there were a few fantastic art groups in the community, we were drawn to a group, and their mission, in Lakeland called the LKLD Creative Makers. After going to an event in Lakeland, we noticed that there were others there from Plant City on the sign-up sheet. From that meeting, all of us decided to meet and create our own group called MAKE Plant City. As a sister group of LKLD Creative Makers, we aim to feature local artists through interviews and networking to bring artists and makers together.
Would you say there’s a “movement” starting to bring in new businesses and a younger clientele?
Absolutely! For a while, most younger people left Plant City to do fun things in Lakeland and Tampa. However, in the past few years, with more and more businesses and awesome events happening in town, I feel this new freshness in the air. I think younger people now have so many reasons to stay in town to go out on a date night, have a celebration with friends, or head to a fun event like a comedy night at the Tipsy Bookworm!
What trends do you see starting to happen within the city?
I see more families moving in the city, more young people, more people getting involved in the community like creating new organizations and events. I see more businesses work together that helps the greater good of our community as a whole. I see more community over competition.
What kind of businesses are currently in downtown Plant City?
Whether you want to go shopping, eat, get entertainment, have a self-care day, or have some libations, downtown has got it all and is continuing to grow!
Here are a few places to check out:
- Food: The Corner Store, Norma’s (their Taco Tuesday and Bar Nights are phenomenal), Mr Sebas Ice Cream and Snacks, Crumble & Cream Bakery, Brick House Cafe, Tacos Piki, Krazy Kup, The Kandy Shoppe, and the new Yerb Labs.
- Drink: Three Hands Mead, Tipsy Bookworm, Roots Taproom and Wine Bar, Yerb Labs
- Shop: Drop the Walls Boutique, Tub Treats, The Mercantile, The Fringe Boutique, The Crafted Butterfly, State Theater Antiques, Jenny’s Clothed in Grace
- Self-Care: KEY Esthetics, Lush Lofts, Ooh La La Hair Studio, Martin’s Place (soon to be Hare & Mane), Honeypot Wax Studio, Clever Massage, Aromatic Harmony
If someone were to visit Plant City for a day, do you have a recommended itinerary of places they should check out and in what order?
I would definitely start with a delicious cup of coffee from Krazy Kup or a pastry from Crumbles & Cream and head to the Willaford Train Museum to get a map for a self-guided scavenger hunt called Henry’s Hidden Train Hunt. MAKE Plant City and Main Street partnered up this past fall to hide 10 hidden trains that can be found all throughout downtown. It’s an excellent activity for the whole family, history buffs, or train enthusiasts. Make any stops into businesses along the way!
I would have lunch either at Norma’s or The Corner Store (you can’t go wrong either way), then head to The Mercantile, Tub Treats, and Tennessee Jane to grab some unique gifts for a friend or yourself. Then I would end the day with a delicious glass of house-made mead from Three Hands Mead or play a board game and get a book from Tipsy Bookworm, or wind down with a glass of wine at Roots Taproom and Wine Bar.
Also, if you can stop by the Torres Bros food truck Thursday-Sunday PLEASE DO and order their birria-shredded beef tacos; you won’t be disappointed!
How can Tampa Bay support Plant City and its local businesses?
Featuring business and events here in Plant City, stopping in and getting to know what is happening in town, tagging the companies, and sharing a review would help tremendously.
What would you like to see Plant City evolve to?
I would love to see Plant City, a more walkable city with more parks for kids and dogs, more nature trails, and more culturally diverse events and businesses.
I know since we initially talked, you recently got married! Congratulations! Would you like to share details about your wedding and how you picked your vendors?
We were super excited to get married in Plant City because we have gotten to know so many businesses over the years, and now we can share how awesome they are with our friends and family from out of town! We picked as many local vendors as we could. We had Norma’s cater a portion of our wedding food and had an assortment of cakes from various bakeries in town. Our videographer, Summer’s Focus, and photographer, Photo Harp Weddings, are based in Plant City, and our beverages were sourced locally from Keel and Curley Winery and Three Hands Mead.
Our engagement photos were taken in front of Checkers (yes, Checkers, it has a special place in our heart, haha) by Photo Harp Weddings. The shoot drew so much attention that the Tampa-based fast-food chain and Plant City franchise sent a 43-foot chicken tender and fry trailer to the wedding to serve guests at the reception!
It was such a memorable and unique day for our guests and us.
Because you’re such a social media guru, what advice would you have for small businesses trying to tackle their own social media accounts?
When it comes to your marketing message on social, and in general, don’t just sell the product; provide the solution. If feasible, I would highly recommend investing in a social media marketing freelancer or a marketing team because there are so many things to keep up with on social media with algorithms and trends that it can (and will) take time away from running your business.
If it’s not in the budget now, I would say you don’t have to be on every social media platform, choose 1 or 2 and be consistent with those. You also don’t have to post every day. Post 2-3 times a week, but be consistent.
What other businesses would you like to see move into the downtown area?
More restaurants, a small theater, murals, rooftop bar, grocery store, boutiques, dance/club, splash pad for kids, public art, farmer’s market, kids park, and dog park.
Are there any misconceptions about Plant City?
We are more than strawberries and agriculture, although that is the foundation of Plant City. There’s more cultural diversity than one would think, and the downtown is so incredibly charming. All you need is one visit, and you’ll fall in love just like I have.
Are there any local events, monthly events, yearly events that you’d like to mention or promote?
Krazy Kup and Tipsy Bookworm always have fun events happening, so check out their social media pages to stay updated. The Plant City Chamber of Commerce also has a community calendar is an excellent resource for events along with the Plant City Main Street page and newsletter and my page @igersplantcity.
Where can we support YOU? Follow you for book updates? Plant City Updates?
Questions, comments or feedback on this article? Comment below or contact us! We would love to hear from you. Curious why we love our local revivalists and support small businesses so much? Read 6 Reasons We Love Supporting Small Business.