Every year in the very small town of Sopchoppy, Fl, nestled in the heart of the Apalachicola National Forest and yet less than an hour’s drive from the state capitol, a unique annual festival unfolds bringing out locals and visitors alike to watch one of the most interesting sights along the gulf coast: Worm Grunting. This traditional folk method of coaxing earthworms from the earth en masse was handed down by local families that once made their living bait harvesting in the Apalachicola forest. Now, only a handful of locals still practice the tradition, but the history of it lives on in the annual Sopchoppy Worm Grunting Festival, just wrapping up it’s 16th year.
Although the worms are the centerpiece of the festival, it is by no means it’s only draw. This small town closes off the streets for a day to allow vendors and food booths to set up shop for the throngs of families that come to experience small town America. The festival opens with live music and a worm grunting demonstration just feet away from the historic G F & A Railroad Depot that birthed the town of Sopchoppy. Truly the magic in the Sopchoppy Worm Grunting Festival is the family atmosphere and the sense of community that it imparts to its visitors.
Having said that, there was still a moment of drama during this year’s worm grunting contest held for the children when no one would confess to the whereabouts of a metal file, leaving one child without a grunting tool until Snap Revell, professional worm grunter, loaned his personal file to the youngster. Despite the scandal, the contest proceeded and everyone had a good time. Other activities of the day included a 5k run, horseshoe competition, hula hoop contest and concluded with the Worm Grunter’s Ball.
Sopchoppy has a particular fondness for me because I often frequent the nearby Ochlockonee River State Park, home of the white squirrel. On one such camping trip I’d forgotten to bring olive oil to cook with and asked the park ranger if I might find some in Sopchoppy. She laughed heartily and said that she wasn’t even sure that folks in Sopchoppy knew what olive oil was, but that I might find some regular cooking oil at the Sopchoppy Grocery store. I ventured to the store and am happy to report that not only did I find a small bottle of olive oil, but I also found fond memories of visiting an old-fashioned grocer that sold a little bit of everything including plumbing supplies and fishing tackle.
My hopes are that Sopchoppy never loses its charm or outgrows itself to turn into a bustling tourist town. There is far too much urban sprawl as it is. The natural area surrounding it is a treasure of its own that should be cherished and protected. But for now, at least for one day each year, Sopchoppy opens its doors and lets it’s heart shine for its curious visitors and that makes me smile.