Wendy Alexander/Madera Tribune File Photo
Seven thousand people attended the annual Pomegranate Festival at the Madera Municipal Airport on 2015. This year’s event is set for Saturday at the Madera District Fairgrounds.
Thousands of people may “go nuts” Saturday — or at least that’s the plan. Madera Chamber of Commerce will host its sixth annual Pomegranate Festival then, with a new emphasis on almonds, walnuts and pistachios.
“The first year that we started this particular event there was an abundance of pomegranates being grown in Madera County ... The following year the market was saturated … Our local growers pulled out their pomegranates” and acreage devoted to the crop dropped to a low of just over 3,000, explained Debi Bray, president of the chamber. “Because of the transition with pomegranates in Madera County, we developed the tag line ‘Go Nuts’ this year — pairing it with one of our top commodities.”
Pomegranates remain the namesake of the free festival however. While it may not be the county’s top crop, it may be one of the most intriguing to the public and it continues as a significant part of local agriculture, according to Bray. “People are mystified by this particular fruit and its history ... We also have one of the largest (pomegranate) processors here.”
This year’s Pomegranate Festival will be at a new location: The Madera District Fairgrounds at 1850 W. Cleveland Ave.
“Our original goal was to be at the fairgrounds and here we are at our sixth year and able to achieve that ... I don’t foresee we will outgrow the fairgrounds so this will most likely be our permanent home. Last year we had over 7,000 people.”
The gathering had started at ApCal in rural Madera due to fears that the fairgrounds would be too large a venue for the 500 attendees they expected. To the surprise of planners, more than 1,000 people came. The family festival later moved to the Madera Municipal Airport. There, in 2015, an accident claimed the life of parachutist David Gilbert during a skydiving demonstration at the event. The tragedy drew nationwide attention.
Moving forward, the fruit fest may have changed sites but it will continue to offer free admission and parking. There also has been growth in the festival itself. “We have had an increase in vendor participation and activities planned for the festival. One of the main goals was to make it a fun, family-friendly day,” Bray said.
Pomegranate and nut inspired foods and products will be available to taste and buy. There also will be lessons on preparing foods of one’s own.
“We have pomegranate inspired food that will be presented through cooking demos,” said Bray. “All of our food vendors must include a food item on the menu that incorporates pomegranates that people can buy.”
Scheduled cooking demonstrations, sponsored by Home Grown Cellars, will feature Chief Ian Cookson of the Vineyard Restaurant at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Chef Moneshay Platt of Mojo’s Catering Service at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., Chef Lauren Rigby of Home Grown at noon and 1:30 p.m., Jackie Lehman of Home Grown at 1 and 2:30 p.m., and Misty Pacini of OroLomo Ranch/Ruby Fresh at 2 p.m.
New activities include a Couples Cornhole Tournament hosted by Dog Pound League. Registration will be from 10-11:30 a.m. with a noon start for the double elimination tourney. The entry fee is $20 per team, and payout will depend on the number of entries. All skill levels and ages welcome.
Familiar events will return as well, such as a Kid Zone. There the Madera County Arts Council will offer free art lessons, Madera Parks and Community Services will present activities and games, a children’s stage will feature performances, law enforcement will have interactive displays, and kids can learn about local agriculture or ride ponies.
For live music, the Dave Clifton Band, formerly known as the MoFo Party Band, will play blues rock. For auto enthusiasts, Madera Classic Cars has organized a car showcase for the festival.
“You can’t do an event like this without partnerships, sponsorships and everyone pulling together to make this happen,” said Bray, who praised them all along with members of the chamber’s tourism alliance committee led by Julie Herd. “We have a number of members who are very talented and have a number of insights ... And the fairground has been a wonderful addition to our team.”
The point of it all, of course, being to celebrate the healthy “fruits” — pomegranate or not — of the geographical heart of California.
“This is an event to showcase Madera County,” said Bray. “We do have quite a few people who come in from out of town ... But this is an event for locals to embrace, to come out and participate.”