Tomato Festival gears up to paint town red

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comSeptember 29, 2012 

The Westside will be home to a celebration of a popular red fruit next week.

The Los Banos Tomato Festival brings chefs, music, contests and much more entertainment to the Los Banos Fairgrounds, 403 F St., Oct. 6 and 7.

Molly Cassidy, a Kagome employee and Los Banos Chamber of Commerce Tomato Festival chairperson, said advertising for the destination festival has stretched from Fresno to San Jose. She said the goal is to reach 15,000 visitors, more than three times what visited last year, over the two days.

"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," she said.

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 Thrust and country performer Maggie Watkins and Scott Patrick Little flavor both days.

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

Tomatoes are big business on the Westside, but most of the product goes to producers. Cassidy said she would like the festival to educate the public on how important the fruit is to local business and employees.

"A lot of people don't know what Kagome is," Cassidy said, as an example. "They don't know how to say it."

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

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

A number of children's music, performers and other entertainment pepper both days.

Pacheco High School's FFA plans a truck and tractor pull, which will double as a club fundraiser, on Oct. 6.

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

The festival runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Oct. 6 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 7. Admission is $5. Tickets are free for children 10 or younger.

For a complete list of events, locations and times, check the Los Banos Tomato Festival guide inside today's Enterprise.

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

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

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