Entertainment & Life

Bananas don’t grow in Sacramento. Why does the city have a festival about the fruit?

Banana Festival volunteer coordinator Daphne Burgess poses at the Banana Store booth Saturday at William Land Park.
Banana Festival volunteer coordinator Daphne Burgess poses at the Banana Store booth Saturday at William Land Park. mbobrowsky@sacbee.com

On the surface, Sacramento’s Banana Festival is a lighthearted event for people to digest large doses of potassium.

There are banana pancakes, chocolate-covered bananas and even pickled bananas. If you’re not hungry, you can buy banana hats, banana paintings and banana trees – so you can grow your own.

Nearly 100 vendors lined the grass at William Land Park this weekend for the 10th annual event. Performers and bounce houses kept both kids and adults entertained. So did the banana-eating contest.

But beneath the yellow fun, the fruit festival is actually a hefty fundraiser for a nonprofit that teaches art and African American history to 12,000 children in south Sacramento for free each year.

From painting to drawing to culture classes, National Academic Youth Corps aims to educate kids and provides free lunch during summer programs.

All the funds, which normally amount to about $50,000 annually, are donated to the Youth Corps after festival costs are covered, according to festival founder Shonna McDaniels. She also founded the nonprofit and the Sojourner Truth Multicultural Art Museum in south Sacramento.

Ten years before the Banana Festival was born, McDaniels started another festival to raise funds for the Youth Corps, said Daphne Burgess, the Banana Festival volunteer coordinator. It took place every year in the museum parking lot.

The idea for the festival came after they decided they wanted to reach a broader audience, she said.

“We thought of all the other food festivals,” McDaniels said. “Let’s do bananas.”

The fruit isn’t native to the city, so they decided to highlight “all the different cultures where bananas are grown,” Burgess said.

They recruited food vendors and artists with one requirement: their booth had to have something banana-themed.

Some vendors went all out, specializing in creations like banana bean pies. Others kept their entire menu the same and added things like deep-fried bananas.

Local artist Libby Harmor has been tabling at the Banana Festival since its inception. She sells hats and customizable plaques.

Harmor said she normally doesn’t sell many hats, but enough to make her come back every year.

Plus, she likes the community. To her, the festival is about more than indulging in banana obsessions.

“It’s about people coming together,” she said.

Burgess agreed.

“It’s to celebrate diversity, whether it’s the food that’s here or the types of vendors we have,” she said.

It’s no coincidence that the festival has a similar mission to the nonprofit it raises money for. Festival goers can chomp down on their bananas this weekend, knowing their money is going toward a good cause.

The event, at the Freeport Boulevard and Sutterville Road intersection, will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. General admission tickets cost $10. Students, seniors and veterans are $8. Kids 5 and under are free.

Meghan Bobrowsky, from Scripps College, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee, focusing on breaking news and school funding. She grew up in nearby Davis.