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Swamp Cabbage Fest marks 57 years Feb. 25-26, 2023

For 57 years, this authentic Florida town east of Fort Myers has been celebrating swamp cabbage in a down-home festival and parade.

The LaBelle Swamp Cabbage Festival takes place every year on the last weekend in February.

Swamp cabbage — it’s called hearts of palm when you pay $10 for it in a fancy restaurant — comes from the state tree, the sabal or cabbage palm.

Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.
Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.

The festival is the sort of small-town extravaganza where teen-age girls vie in a beauty pageant, the high school band plays “Louie Louie” in the parade, and folks debate whether the big entertainment is the rodeo or the armadillo races.

The festival bills itself as “family festival with no alcoholic beverages” and organizers expect 30,000 to 50,000 people over festival weekend.

The festival is free and fills the city’s waterfront Barron Park, North State Road 29 at the Caloosahatchee River.

swamp cabbage festival sign
Sign on main street in town

 

Swamp Cabbage Festival

Saturday

  • Parade starts at 10 a.m. Saturday in front of the Dollar General Market and ends on Bridge Street in front of the Catholic Church.
  • 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Legends of the Road Super Cruise car show
  • 11:30 a.m. – Opening Ceremony (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 11:45 a.m. – Sheriff’s Posse (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 12:45 a.m. – Matrassa Lynn (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 1:45 p.m. – Queen/Princess Introduction (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 2 p.m. – Unforgiven Band (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 3 p.m. – Eli Mosley (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 4:30 p.m. – The Bourbon Brothers (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • Hendry County Cattlemen Association Annual Ranch Rodeo is held Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday at 10 a.m. It’s $10 for adults; kids under 10 are free. (These are last year’s prices and may change.)This takes place at the rodeo grounds on State Road 29.  The rodeo features homegrown Florida cowboys and cowgirls and is a qualifying event for the Florida Cattlemen’s Association state championships in Kissimmee. Details.

Sunday

  • Safelight – Bass Tournament (LaBelle Boat Docks)
  • 9:30 a.m. – James Holland and Worship (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 11:00 a.m. – Lester Beleau (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • Noon – Queen/Princess Introduction (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 12:15  p.m. – Charlie Pace (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 1:45 p.m. – The Walker Experience (Band stand, Barron Park)
  • 02:45 p.m. – Matrassa Lynn (Band stand, Barron Park)

 

Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.
Armadillo races at Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.

Here’s more information on the Swamp Cabbage Festival website.

The armadillo races, managed by the Rotary Club to raise money for scholarships, occur at intervals throughout the festival.

If you love armadillos, you’ll get 15 seconds of fun from this armadillo “dancing.”

Historic LaBelle, home of the Swamp Cabbage Festival

 

Forrey Grill in historic LaBelle downtown
Forrey Grill in historic LaBelle downtown. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

LaBelle started as a town located right on the main drag, the Caloosahatchee River, because at the turn to 19th Century, rivers were the highways of Florida. The region was populated by cattle and citrus farmers and in 1895, landowner Captain Francis Hendry platted the town that would become the seat of the county named after him.

While a 1928 fire destroyed many of the original buildings, a few remain and the historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town, however, is now in a decidedly out of the way location and its historic downtown is a work in progress.

Historic district sign in LaBell, homw of the Swamp Cabbage Festival
Historic district sign in LaBelle

We had a terrific lunch in a beautifully restored downtown cafe called the Forrey Grill, with a tasty blackened grilled chicken on a croissant sandwich and fresh crunchy homemade potato chips.

We’ve also enjoyed excellent barbecue at Log Cabin BBQ, 480 W Hickpochee Ave. You’ll want to stop here after reading all the reviews on Yelp. The free soup was especially good. (Yup, free soup for everyone.)

Where is LaBelle?

Labelle is 28 miles east of Fort Myers on State Road 80, also known as Palm Beach Boulevard. If you are coming from the east coast, Labelle is 98 miles west of West Palm Beach on State Road 80. And if you are travelling south from the Orlando area, take U.S. 27 south for 74 miles to Palmdale, where you pick up County Road 29 for the final 14 miles to Labelle. (See map below).

Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.
Armadillo races at 2015 Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo courtesy Pete Cross.

Places to explore near LaBelle and Fort Myers

Find a room near LaBelle

Port LaBelle Inn, LaBelle

Hotels near La Belle

Find a campground near LaBelle

Whisper Creek RV Resort, Labelle

The Glades RV Resort, Labelle

Upriver RV Resort, Fort Myers

Seminole Campground, Fort Myers

Check out this light-hearted documentary video about the festival:

NOTE: Florida Rambler is not associated with the festival nor do we sell or know where you can buy swamp cabbage, although you can find it in many supermarkets labelled “Hearts of Palm.”

Notes from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.

This page may include affiliate links from which we earn modest commissions if a purchase is made. 

This article is property of FloridaRambler.com, protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.


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