An Interview with Mari Molina
“I’m very focused and when I set my mind on doing something, I get it done!”
~ Mari Molina
Yet never in a million years would Molina have imagined herself doing this: organizing an agricultural festival in a small city originally created to support the local farmers. But with the first ever Bunnell Festival around the corner, she’s doing just that.
Prior to retiring to Palm Coast in the early 2000s, at around which time she started Flagler Cats –a non-profit dedicated to controlling the local feral cat population through ethical and non-lethal methods–Molina was an executive chef for Marriott in New York City. This is quite a different look.
To pull off such a different feat, she obviously needed more than her cooking skills. Molina’s an organizer and she’s not afraid to try her hand at something new. At the beginning of Flagler Cats, she and the other volunteers would meet in the Walmart parking lot. Now the organization enjoys a 1,200- square-foot office in the city that this festival celebrates.
If there’s another connection between cats and Bunnell–other than the cats who live there, of course–it might have something to do with abandonment.
Last year, the city of Bunnell decided it could no longer afford to stage their annual Bunnell Potato Festival, a celebration of the county’s agricultural history, which enjoyed a six-year run.
If not for Molina, the tradition would’ve been left by the wayside just like some of those kitties that she aids. She wasn’t about to let that happen.
Indeed, when the city announced they dropped the Potato Fest, Molina saw her window. She says:
“Bunnell Festival is a tradition. And I felt that that was a good opportunity to take it to the next level.”
Not to mention, it’s a great way to get the word out on Flagler Cats and all the organization does for the community.
At the Potato Festival, everything was potato, potato, potato, Molina says. A Mrs. Potato contest, a mashed potato contest, activities like that. Although potatoes will always have a place in Bunnell’s history, Molina thought that was too much starch.
With her vision, “We don’t want it to just be potatoes,” she says. So it won’t.
Over the course of Flagler’s deep-rooted history, many agricultural industries deserve mention: timber, turpentine, and cattle, just to name a few.
Molina has managed to bring aboard sundry related organizations. One of those is 4-H, an agriculture program run out of the University of Florida, aimed at the youth. At the festival, the program will offer up a plethora of various veggies to be sold. Another organization is the Cattleman’s Association. The Flagler Historical Society, located at Bunnell’s Holden House, will also be open to the public, she says. So passers-by will have the opportunity to learn local history that day.
Considering she’s from New York, when Molina says: “I think Bunnell is very misunderstood,” and, “Bunnell has a lot to offer,” that means something.
There is a lot of land here that people could build on. “We’re not a Palm Coast, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have potential,” she says.
It’s not for nothing that Molina houses Flagler Cats there.
The educational element isn’t all, though. When it comes to entertainment, firstly, there’ll be a country music band called Slickwood. Molina heard about them after they performed at the Hot Foods N’ Spicy Blues Festival this past February at the Flagler Agriculture Museum. “Everyone that heard them said they were fantastic. They loved them.”
In the past, Molina, personally hosted a red carpet dog show each year at the Potato Festival. That’s not going to change now, she says. This year it will take place inside the air-conditioned city hall. There’ll also be a bird show and plenty of kid activities.
Just as it was with the Bunnell’s Christmas celebration, also eliminated by the city, and which Flagler Cats stepped up to take over as well, Flagler Cats is demonstrating that they care for Flagler residents almost as much as they do for county fur balls. In a way, it’s always about hungry cats, she says.
In addition to just being a good time, the celebration contributed toys to low-income children, and brought together many local-area businesses just as it’s doing here.
While what she might never have anticipated being in this role a few years back, she says:
“It feels great. I’ve learned a lot. I’m learning a lot. Every time I get an envelope and there’s a Bunnell Festival Vendor Application there, I feel fantastic. People are supporting the Bunnell Festival and it’s going to be a great event!”
- Sisco Deen | Flagler County Historical Society
- Mayor Catherine Robinson | Bunnell Mayor