Fair Oaks celebrates its clucking denizens with chicken festival

The chickens mostly stayed out of it, but Fair Oaks Village celebrated the feral fowl that serve as its mascots.

The eighth Fair Oaks Chicken Festival drew crowds on a rainy Saturday to Fair Oaks’ town center, where more than 100 food, craft, nonprofit and business-themed booths lined village streets and children tumbled in bounce houses and played toss games with rubber chickens.

The village’s famed feathered population mostly stayed in the trees. It’s also where they sleep, said Sabrina Bernardo of the Fair Oaks Recreation & Park District, which spearheads the festival.

But enterprising festival-goers Jeannie Fong and Frank Calderone, both of Sacramento, found a few chickens to admire in front of the former Slocum House restaurant on California Avenue.

Fong, a retired cafe owner and caterer and current chicken enthusiast, keeps two egg-laying hens at her Natomas home (Sacramento allows residents up to three backyard hens).

“Chickens will sit next to you; you can pet them,” Fong said. “They are better than dogs and cats. You don’t have to shovel anything, and they fertilize the yard.”

“She spoils them,” Calderone said.

The Slocum House chickens appeared warier than Fong’s pets, though one approached Fong with a look that said it might trade affection for food (she didn’t comply).

There appeared to be a few thousand people at the festival Saturday morning, when it was cloudy but not yet raining. Last year’s event drew 10,000 to 15,000 (exact tallies are tricky because the festival does not charge admission).

Attendance Saturday “would have been the same or higher” had organizers not been forced to shorten the event because of weather, said Jennifer Davis of the parks department. Rain began falling around 12:45 p.m. and rarely stopped. Organizers called it at 3 p.m., or three hours before the event’s scheduled conclusion.

The festival celebrates Fair Oaks’ chickens “and all the area has to offer,” Bernardo said. “Even though we are right next to Sacramento,” many Sacramentans are not aware of the festival or the quaint few blocks of restaurants and antique stores that compose the village, she said.

Though few chickens were visible Saturday, there was plenty of clucking, much of it generated by red plastic-cup contraptions.

Nine-year-old Fair Oaks resident Haley Dever used her cup gizmo to cluck enthusiastically while surveying booths with her family.

There were no electronics involved, “just a string,” Haley said, demonstrating her cup’s clucking power.

The cluck is produced when a small, wet sponge is squeezed “tight around the string,” explained Pat Cave at the Roseville Quilters Guild booth, source of Haley’s clucker. Cave fashioned a rough version of a clucker for the first Fair Oaks Chicken Festival, to draw attention to the quilters’ booth.

She and her fellow quilters, showing the patience for which they are known, have refined the cups bit by bit, and “they have improved every year,” Cave said.