Heirloom expo attracts food, veggie lovers to Santa Rosa

Four tons and more than 200 varieties of heirloom squash went into this 30-foot-tall mountain of squash, displayed at a past National Heirloom Expo.
Four tons and more than 200 varieties of heirloom squash went into this 30-foot-tall mountain of squash, displayed at a past National Heirloom Expo. Sacramento Bee

Looking for that extra special tomato or mouth-watering melon? Want to know more about organic produce or sustainability? In search of farmers dedicated to old-fashioned varieties and ideals?

Head to Santa Rosa this week for the sixth annual National Heirloom Expo, the world’s largest event dedicated to heirloom produce.

Billed as the “World’s Fair of Pure Food,” the expo continues from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 7 and 8, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. Admission is $15; children age 12 and younger are admitted free.

More than 20,000 farmers, gardeners and patrons interested in pure food, heritage livestock and heirloom produce are expected to attend. With new-found interest among today’s consumers, heirloom vegetables and fruit are old-time varieties, grown for decades from seed handed down from one generation of farmers or gardeners to the next. Likewise, heritage livestock are old breeds that have often become rare or nearly extinct.

This year’s expo, which opened Tuesday, features more than 4,000 varieties of heirloom produce including hundreds of tomato varieties. Grown by local volunteer farmers, this heirloom bounty is piled high in a jaw-dropping, hall-filling presentation, considered the largest edible display of its kind anywhere. It’s accompanied by a gigantic tasting of fresh fruit in the expo’s new tasting kitchen.

In addition, wine country chefs and other culinary experts will make the most of that produce in special farm-to-fork cooking demonstrations. That’s in addition to 30 “Think Global, Act Local” kitchens serving a wide range of locally grown ethnic cuisines.

About 350 vendors fill the expo’s commerce halls, offering a wide range of heirloom-related products from gardening tools and fertilizers to food products and gifts.

More than 100 nationally and internationally recognized speakers present topics and workshops in three separate halls, tailored to specific interests: gardening, farming and pure food. Among the experts are tomato guru Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farm, Indian seed saver Dr. Vandana Shiva and world record giant vegetable grower Leonardo Urena.

Dozens of companies that specialize in heirloom seeds will offer workshops – and seeds, either for sale or as samples. At 3 p.m. Thursday, expo goers are invited to participate in a massive seed exchange; bring some seeds to swap.

Adding to the expo’s old-time flavor are a heritage poultry show, giant pumpkin contest, national fiddlers contest and dahlia flower show – all part of the festival entertainment. Proceeds from this nonprofit event support local school gardens and food programs.

For details, directions and speaker times, go to

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington