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Strawberries and Sunshine Draw 38,000 to Festival


OXNARD — His girlfriend got him once, and now Eric McKee was itching for good-natured revenge.

He picked up one strawberry tart and threw it. Bam! It slapped an inch from her face. He tried another: Whap! Just over her head. Third time: Bull's-eye! Right in the kisser.

There was Yvette Gonzalez of Oxnard, her head sticking out of a strawberry cutout, and a sweet, freshly tossed dollop of strawberry goo and whipped cream on her face.

"I thought he loved me," Gonzalez joked, dabbing at her red-streaked face. "I'll make him pay for this." The couple were among the 38,000 people at the 17th annual California Strawberry Festival in Oxnard on Saturday ready to buy, eat, admire, toss and, in some cases, wear the juicy, red berries.

"We're right on target," said Don DeArmond, the festival chairman, about this year's attendance. "We're bringing out people to a fine community event, and there are 25 or so nonprofit [groups] benefiting from food sales. We're proud of that."

DeArmond said he expects a bigger turnout today because more people typically attend the festival on Sunday. "You get good sunshine, that makes people want to come visit," he said. The festival is open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Oxnard's College Park.

Oxnard is the state's second-largest producer of strawberries, behind Watsonville, growing 25% of the yield, according to the California Strawberry Commission, thanks in part to the kind of beautiful weather festival-goers experienced Saturday.

Booth after booth offered strawberry delights:

Strawberry pizza. Strawberry shortcake. Strawberry beer. Strawberry kebabs. And just plain strawberries, thousands of them, sold on flat after flat.

At Camarillo Roadrunners Youth Football crepe booth, volunteers hauled in 850 pounds of strawberries in juice, 40 flats of whole strawberries, 27 buckets of whipped cream and 25 buckets of chocolate mousse--enough for 3,000 crepes over the two-day festival.

Yes, the festival is clearly a celebration of the berry, said Tony Godinez, who managed the Roadrunners booth. But it's also a chance to meet people from all over Southern California who trek to Oxnard to sate their hunger for the luscious fruit.

Godinez said he has one customer, an elderly woman from San Diego, who comes to his booth every year and insists on paying for her first crepe, but she doesn't mind taking a couple of freebies home. "We were worried because we didn't see her until late last year," he said. "This year she called to tell me she'd be here."

In a change of pace for a festival almost entirely devoted to strawberries, crowds of visitors cheered the Alpo Canine Frisbee disc regional championships, as teams of high-flying dogs and their masters performed flying disc pet tricks.

Jasmine Hyun of Torrance brought her Australian cattle dog, Snap, for a chance at the competition--just for fun, because Snap is a youngster. The pup grabbed the disc as Hyun spun it on her leg. She lunged for it as it soared through the air. She whipped around to grasp it in her mouth. "I just go out and have fun. Snap isn't a polished dog," Hyun said. "But now, we'll enjoy the strawberry festival. Even Snap."

Meanwhile, back at the tart toss, Carolyn Slaughter of Newbury Park took advantage of the opportunity to pelt her kids. They shrugged it off--even if their eyelashes did get a little sticky and their short hair stood straight up, with the help of strawberry goo.

"I like this," 10-year-old Andrew Slaughter said. "I just did it for the taste."

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