Think you know heirloom tomatoes? You haven’t seen anything yet.
The fifth annual National Heirloom Exposition will fill the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa with all sorts of heirloom produce plus rare breed livestock, heritage poultry and other almost lost-links to our agricultural past. The not-for-profit expo runs Sept. 8-10.
“We’ll have more than 4,000 varieties of produce on display,” said event organizer Paul Wallace, manager of The Seed Bank in Petaluma. “It’s quite the challenge.”
Last year, more than 18,000 patrons visited the expo including 3,000 schoolchildren, Wallace said. Proceeds went towards agriculture- and food-related school programs.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s fantastic to see all these people learning about their food,” he added. “Our attendance has continued to climb; it’s wonderful. So, we keep expanding.”
In addition to the “world’s largest display of produce” (including squash piled more than 30 feet high), this mostly food-minded expo features a giant pumpkin contest, fiddle playing contest, antique tractor display and chalk art. Restaurant chefs will compete in an heirloom cuisine cook-off. Special displays will be devoted to dahlias (a favorite heirloom flower) and honey.
“It’s all stuff related to food and gardening and celebrating that connection,” Wallace said.
Volunteer farmers throughout Northern California grew tons of unusual vegetables for this event, nicknamed the “world’s fair of pure food.”
“We’re literally picking as we speak,” Wallace said Tuesday. “Most of the produce that will be on display at the expo was grown on about 10 acres in Esparto not far from Sacramento.”
Interest in heirloom produce has swelled in recent years, Wallace noted. The Seed Bank is a major seed source of heirloom varieties for home gardeners.
“At The Seed Bank, we carry 1,700 varieties, all heirlooms,” he said. “An heirloom variety is one that’s handed down from generation to generation because it has a quality worth saving.
“When people think heirloom, people immediately think tomatoes,” he added. “We’ll have 400 varieties of tomatoes – all heirlooms. But that’s only the start. We’ll have more than 300 varieties of squash. We’ve got more than 100 kinds of gourds, both edible and decorative, including some very unusual ones.
“We’ve got more than a hundred varieties of melons plus another hundred watermelon varieties. They’re very different; orange, white, red, yellow on the inside and multiple colors on the outside, too. It’s just beautiful to watch them grow in the field.”
Patrons can taste for themselves at several sampling stations. A sprawling farmer’s market will allow visitors take some produce home, too.
More than 350 vendors from across the country will offer their natural food, gardening, sustainability and green living products. Dozens of speakers will tackle gardening- and food production-related topics ranging from backyard chickens to seed saving. In all, about 1,000 produce and livestock exhibitors are expected to take part.
Expo hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 8-10. Admission is $15; youth age 17 and younger admitted free. Sonoma County Fairgrounds is located at 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. For details and speaker schedule, click on www.theheirloomexpo.com or call 707-773-1336.