Los Banos gears up for annual Tomato Festival

10/04/2012 9:00 PM

10/05/2012 1:20 AM

The West Side will be home to a celebration of a popular red fruit this weekend.

The Los Banos Tomato Festival on Saturday and Sunday brings chefs, music, contests and much more entertainment to the Los Banos Fairgrounds, 403 F St.

Molly Cassidy, a Kagome employee and Los Banos Chamber of Commerce director, said advertising for the festival has stretched from Fresno to San Jose. She said the goal is to reach 15,000 visitors, more than three times the number that visited during its two-day run last year.

"We have already twice as many vendors as last year," Cassidy said, adding that fresh produce and tractor pulls are notable additions. "It's definitely significantly larger than last year."

Recipes and demonstrations from celebrity chef Ryan Scott, as well as chefs Charlie Baggs and Claudia Pruett, will give scores of onlookers new ways to enjoy the fruit. Demonstrations include everything from tomato basil and ratatouille to smokey tomato bacon and focaccia pizza.

Cassidy said the tomato could one day be what garlic is to Gilroy, "but we're taking it one year at a time."

Concerts from the country and rock fusion of Second Wind, country and Western singer-songwriter Terry Brown, Latin groups Elemento 3 and Realidades de Tierra Caliente, classic rockers Johnny Rocket & the Thrush and country performer Maggie Watkins and Scott Patrick Little will add some flavor to both days.

Cassidy said three stages will feature the acts, two more than in 2011.

Tomatoes are big business on the West Side, but most of what they're made into goes to producers. Cassidy said she would like the festival to educate the public on how important the fruit is to area businesses and workers.

"A lot of people don't know what Kagome is," she said, as an example. "They don't know how to say it." The Japan-based food company has a strong focus on the tomato, with a seed bank housing over 7500 varieties, according to its Web site.

Organizers plan competitions for pasta sauce, salsa, Bloody Marys and barbecue. Festivalgoers can participate in judging the salsa and barbecue contests.

More than 200 vendors at the farmers market will sell fresh produce, fried green tomatoes, hot dogs, shaved ice, kettle corn, pizza and cigars, among others.

Children's music performances and other entertainment pepper both days.

Pacheco High School's FFA plans a truck and tractor pull, which will double as a club fund-raiser, on Saturday.

The 2011 festival generated $10,000 for nonprofit groups through the Volunteer Equity Program. Cassidy said 107 volunteers from six nonprofits will benefit from this year's festivities. The amount they will receive is based on the festival's success.

The festival runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5. Tickets are free for children 10 or younger.

For more information, visit www.lbtomatofestival.com or call the Los Banos Chamber of Commerce at (209) 826-2495.

Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

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