How N.O.C.I.A. began

The Northwest Orange County Improvement associating was chartered by concerned progressive residents seeking area improvements and a voice in the community affairs. Zoning matters in particular had the scrutiny of the N.O.C.I.A. Members. In our opinion, no rezoning of property should occur at the expense of surrounding property owners.

We worked for clean air and our membership turned out in force every spring to completely clean the roadside of approximately 32 miles in our area. Road captains policed for illegal dumping and littering and watched for any violations of zoning laws.

We needed funds to get this work done. We tried having spaghetti suppers, catfish dinners and turkey shoots and raised a little money, but not enough. That is when we decided to have a corn boil.

We appointed some of the ladies to start meeting. They needed to find what we could serve at a sweet corn boil dinner, where to have it, how to have it, what we could serve to drink, and what to do for desserts.

In 1968 we had our very first corn boil. We served Kentucky Fried Chicken, potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw and corn on the cob. Our ladies prepared the meal and Zellwood Farms donated the corn. The first year we served 600 people for the one day event.

In 1973 we decided to change the name to the Zellwood Sweet Corn Festival and make it a two day event because Festivals had become quite popular around the country. Billy Osborn was the first chairman and Bill Kelly the first Co-chairman. They needed a place to host the event. Zellwood station was just setting up and needed a little publicity, so they invited us to have our first Zellwood Sweet Corn Festival at Zellwood Station.

We had 12,800 people join us at that first festival. We cooked the corn in Black pots with gas flames underneath them. We found just about every black pot in the state of Florida and still fell behind cooking. People were waiting in line to get the corn, so we knew we had to do something about that. We needed to cook the corn much faster to keep our guests happy.

Prior to the Festival we bought one acre of land on Poncan Road. After the first Festival we had made enough money that we could start building our home. By the next Festival we had our own building and leased 54 acres of land that belonged to the county.

Each guest ate an average of 5 1/2 ears of corn. Expecting 20,000 guests at at our next festival, we needed to come up with a more efficient way to cook the corn. Bob Harper, of Harper Plumbing & Heating in Orlando, was given the task to find us a solution. Bob designed a cooker and got a company out of Texas to build it. That is when “BIG BERTHA was born.

Once “BIG BETHA” was built, The Department of Tobacco and Alcohol decided this would be an excellent device in which to make corn whiskey. They wouldn’t allow Big Bertha to be released for shipment to Florida until “such time” they wanted proof just what “she” was going to be used for.

We gathered documents and signatures to show what we are, who we are and what we are going to use her for, so that the government would release Big Bertha to us. Finally, Big Bertha arrived safely home to Zellwood.

We designed a chain hoists that were hand operated that year, to get the corn in and out of our Big Bertha cooker. The hoists were too slow, so we used electric hoists the following year and were able to stay ahead of the corn demand!

Today N.O.C.I.A. is proud to announce that our Zellwood Sweet Corm Festival has been serving our community (and beyond) for 37 wonderful years! We now own 105 acres of naturally sculptured land! Our Festival now includes continuous country music all day long featuring Nashville talent, one of the largest Arts & Crafts Shows in the state, and a safe, secure carnival ride area for the children!

N.O.C.I.A. provides two lighted tennis courts, a children’s playground, baseball diamond and large picnic area. We also have several large buildings available for use.

N.O.C.I.A. rents our facilities out to area business and families for meeting and family functions.

The Corn Festival depends on many area groups to work, as they depend on us to earn money each year. N.O.C.I.A. makes it possible for at least twenty different non-profit groups to earn money for their cause by working in the festival.

We have used many of the buildings for Church Groups, School groups, Girls & Boy Scouts, Sertoma Club, Elks Lodge, Moose Lodge, Police & Fire Departments and more.

N.O.C.I.A. is a Non-Profit Organization. All proceeds generated by our organization from the Zellwood Sweet Corn Festival or any other fund raiser event (except for operating expenses) are given back to the community in way of donations.

N.O.C.I.A. has donated tens of thousands of dollars to other worthwhile organizations, such as Apopka Foliage Pageant, Apopka High School Baseball, Apopka Youth Sports, Camp Challenge, Camp Thunderbird, Central Florida Zoo, Crimeline, Edgewood Children’s Ranch, Foster Parents of Lake County, Friends of Wekiwa, Frontline Foundation, Hospice of Central Florida, Loaves and
Fished, MADD, Meals on Wheels, Path, Red Caps, Response, Temporary Living Center, Zellwood Community Center, Arnold Palmer Hospital, New Friends, Special Olympics, Anthony House, Apopka Middle School, Apopka Elementary School, Dream Lake Elementary School, Lovell Elementary School, Lovell Elementary, Rock Springs Elementary School, Wheatly Elementary School, Zellwood Elementary School, Piedmont Lakes Elementary School, and many more.

We are proud of our Organization; we did it the American way. We earned it, we did not ask for nor did we receive any Federal, State or Local Grants. The good people of Northwest Orange County did it on their own.

To the thousands of guests who come to our Corn Festival each year, we thank you. Your ideas and suggestions have helped to make the Zellwood Sweet Corn Festival what it is today.


*History was prepared by B.J. Osborne