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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Strawberry Festival Organizers Claim Good Time for All

May 15, 1999|MASSIE RITSCH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Members of the California Strawberry Commission feel pretty strongly there is no way to have a bad time at this weekend's California Strawberry Festival. After all, the event will be crawling with strawberry lovers--a breed that, according to the commission, is "health conscious, fun-loving, intelligent and happy."

Only 6% of households don't care for Ventura County's most famous crop, according to a nationwide survey by the commission, which also learned from respondents that strawberry haters are "weird, boring, stuffy, picky eaters who avoid healthy foods."

The commission lauds the heart-shaped fruit as bursting with vitamin C and folic acid. Its Web site suggests using them in cool drinks, chutney, salsa, nachos, antipasto, soup, sandwiches, omelets, pizza and kabobs.

"Some of the things that don't sound good are actually very surprising," said strawberry commission spokeswoman Dominique Jordan. "I just wouldn't rule anything out. It could surprise you."

To feed the 65,000 people expected to show up in Oxnard this weekend--and provide them with a few pints for the road--the 16th annual festival will use 5 million locally grown strawberries, which amounts to about 77 per person, according to festival committee chairman Don DeArmond.

Most of the berries picked on the Oxnard Plain are of the Camarosa variety, a hearty strain good for shipping but, some complain, short on flavor.

"Overall it's a better quality berry," said DeArmond, whose main concern as a cooler and shipper of strawberries is its shelf life.

The soft, red fruit has been good to Ventura County. Local farmers grow $100 million worth of strawberries each year on 6,600 acres in Oxnard. Statewide, California produces 80% of the nation's crop on 24,500 acres from San Diego to Watsonville. There is hardly a month out of the year when strawberries aren't being harvested somewhere in the state.

Six berry varieties make up most of California's crop, with the Camarosa most popular in the southern region. But many people here--in the place festival promoters call "the land of endless summers"--are still wistful for the sweet and juicy Chandler variety that was tops a few years ago.

"The Camarosa is the winner right now, but between now and five years there will probably be another one," DeArmond said. "There's always going to be a change."

"Our researchers are always looking for the perfect berry, one that looks good, tastes good and ships well," Jordan said.

When the crowds show up today and Sunday at Strawberry Meadows, across from Oxnard College, they will come for more than the strawberry.

First organized in 1984 by Oxnard officials and a handful of strawberry growers, the festival has ripened into a two-day regional event with sponsorship from national corporations.

"It's big," said Jordan, who is coming down from Watsonville for the event. "It's kind of like the Gilroy Garlic Festival. It almost has national recognition now."

More than 300 arts-and-crafts vendors from 11 states will hawk their paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, furniture and toys. The festival's area for children, Strawberryland for Kids, features rides, a petting zoo and arts and crafts.

Grammy nominee Taylor Dayne of 1980s dance hall R&B fame will headline the entertainment, and prizes are up for grabs in the strawberry tart toss, relay and shortcake eating contest.

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