Fruit, vegetables get ready for plenty of festival attention

Meah Tavera, 8, of Grand Junction has her hand raised after she won a heat of the peach eating Contest

Plant a fruit or vegetable in western Colorado, and there’s a good chance someone will throw a party.

Strawberries, peaches, cherries, apples, grapes, sweet corn and potatoes all are honored annually and individually with festivals in western Colorado communities.

The produce parties begin June 19 with the 112th annual Strawberry Days in Glenwood Springs and continue into the first weekend of October with Cedaredge’s AppleFest.

During each festival, live music, vendors, a parade and various arts and crafts sales are common. And the fruit or vegetable the festival is named after is celebrated in a myriad of ways.

Among the events planned for the upcoming Strawberry Days, there is a free ice cream and strawberries social from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 20 in Sayre Park, which locals call Strawberry Park. Other strawberry desserts and events are available throughout the weekend festival.

But strawberries are no longer grown in Glenwood Springs, said Marianne Virgili, president and chief executive officer with the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce. In fact, if her memory is correct, the last time Glenwood Springs featured locally grown fruit during Strawberry Days was 12 years ago.

“They used to be all around,” she said, assuring Western Colorado that Strawberry Days was created 112 years ago because strawberries were a popularly harvested fruit in the area. “The last strawberries grown around here were in New Castle, and it’s now a housing development.”

It appears other celebrated fruit plants and trees met their demise in a similar fashion. Orchard Avenue, a long Grand Junction street lined with homes, is named after the orchards that once grew there.

The Pear Park area southeast of Grand Junction refers to the pear trees that grew in that area.

Community or regional names such as Orchard City, Appleton, Fruita and Orchard Mesa were given for an agricultural reason.

Fortunately, East Orchard Mesa and Palisade are still popular places for fruit orchards.

In addition to nurturing numerous cherry, apricot and pear trees, East Orchard Mesa and Palisade famously grow peaches.

Organizers with the 41st annual Palisade Peach Festival, Aug. 13–16, will hand out a free peach to everyone who attends the event.

Leif Johnson, executive director of the peach festival, said free peaches were handed out last year for the first time, and the response was so positive that the organizing committee wants it to continue.

The festival at Riverbend Park also highlights the peach with eating and cooking contests.

“We absolutely try to make the peach the focus,” Johnson said. “This is truly a celebration of the peach harvest.”

Palisade isn’t the only western Colorado town where locals and visitors can get their hands on fruit.

The 32nd annual Cedaredge AppleFest is a celebration of the apple harvest. This year, AppleFest is Oct. 3–4, but events unofficially begin with a chili cook-off Oct. 1.

During AppleFest, various orchards bring apples into the community and serve them in different ways. There typically are arts and crafts sales as well.

Cross Orchards Apple Jubilee in Grand Junction is another event celebrating the apple and the fresh cider it can produce. Apple Jubilee is Sept. 18–19.

The thing about having festivals for produce is the organizers’ reliance on nature to cooperate with good growing and harvesting weather.

Some years, harvests aren’t as abundant as others, festival organizers admitted.

The Paonia Cherry Days is one event where nature sometimes interfers with the party. Cherries blooms can be killed by late spring frosts.

Fortunately, Paonia should have an ample cherry supply for the 63rd annual Paonia Cherry Days on July 3–5, said Ellen Stapenhorst, event coordinator.

“The last few years it has been dicey because of late freezes,” she said. “This year, we actually have cherries. There are cherries all over the place.”

While fruit is good, it doesn’t consume all produce festivals in western Colorado.

The Potato Day Parade & Celebration is Sept. 19 in Carbondale, formerly a popular region for raising potatoes.

The Olathe Sweet Corn Festival is Aug. 1 in Olathe, and few places are as invested in a crop as Olathe is invested in its sweet corn.

Festival executive director Bobbi Sale stopped short of saying sweet corn drives Olathe’s economy, but “it’s a major player.” Many residents in the small, rural town work in agriculture, and the sweet corn is synonymous with Olathe, Sale said.

The Olathe Sweet Corn Festival, at 18 years, is young compared to the other festivals.

It has grown in popularity and now draws thousands of people for the all-you-can-eat corn and activities that include a concert from a nationally-known artist. This year, Clint Black performs.

Every year, the musicians take Olathe sweet corn with them when they leave town, Sale said.

“All of (the musical performers) have said they’ve never had corn that good,” Sale said.

Later in September, the 18th annual Colorado Mountain Winefest will be held in Palisade. It’s technically not a fruit festival, but grapes are used to make wine. Grapes are grown locally.

In fact, the only fruits grown abundantly in Mesa County that don’t have a festival dedicated to them, at least not one anyone can remember, are apricots and pears.

“I can’t answer that,” Johnson said. “That’s a good question.”

He figured apricots don’t have a festival because they are an early summer crop that can be killed off by late spring frosts.

Pears, on the other hand, are harvested in late summer, so Johnson had to think about why pears aren’t festival-worthy in Palisade.

“I think your question has validity,” he said.


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