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Pom Fest sets record at new venue

Even a change in venue didn’t stop an estimated 10,000 people from heading out to the Madera District Fairgrounds for the Madera Chamber of Commerce’s Pomegranate Festival.

After spending the last few years at the Madera Municipal Airport, the chamber moved the event to the fairgrounds in hope of attracting more people.

Mission accomplished.

“The very first year, we held the festival at ApCal and the ultimate goal was to have it at the fairgrounds,” said Madera Chamber of Commerce CEO Debi Bray. “We hoped to have 500 people that first year. We had closer to 1,500 people. Each year, we have crept up. Just looking at the history of the increase, our goal was to hit 10,000 this year. We’re excited we hit the goals in attendance. We had an increase in vendor participation and activities. Now we want to highlight more of the Madera agriculture.”

From the start of the festival Saturday at 10 a.m. until the gates closed at 4 p.m., people were coming in and out of the fairgrounds to see more vendors, more food booths and more entertainment than ever.

“It’s going way better than we expected,” said Jeffrey Braga of Braga Organic Farms, one of the sponsors of the event. “We sold out of one product two hours in. We didn’t know what to expect. It’s a free event, which encourages a lot of people to show up. There’s a lot of things going on. For next year, we’ll know to bring a lot more product.”

Braga said his family-owned business decided to be a sponsor to help market their new facility at the corner of Mitchell Court and Granada Drive.

“That was the reason why we were a sponsor, to market our new building,” he said. “We’ll have a grand opening soon to bring people in. We’ll accept walk-ins. We have put it out there that we’re open, yet. We will officially open in a couple of weeks, I would guess.”

However, he was happily overwhelmed with the amount of people at the fairgrounds.

“We’re keeping busy with a lot of samples given out,” he said. “We have people from out of town wanting to buy gifts for family out of town. It’s cool.”

Bray increased the number of vendors this year, but also doubled the amount of food vendors. Any worries about certain groups getting a lack of business were erased almost immediately with the lines at each food booth.

Kathy Nishimoto of Fastway Chicken said she was busy from the time they opened until they ran out of food. Black Bear Diner general manager Robby Achee was also enthusiastic about the new venue.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s nice to have it at the fair. It opens it up to have a lot more people and more vendors. It’s convenient getting in and out and the parking is better. Not that the airport wasn’t great.”

One of the reasons a company or business puts up a booth at Pom Fest is to raise awareness for what they are doing while also trying to raise funds. That is exactly what the Stallions Nation Wrestling Club was doing selling its pomegranate infused cookies.

“I believe it’s a great way to introduce ourselves into the community to make people of our organization and what we’re trying to do,” Sal Gonzalez said. “The purpose this year is to get our wrestling club kids singlets, from five years old up to eighth grade, due to a lot kids can’t afford it. We want to bring awareness to the people in the community and make them aware we have a wrestling program.”

Gonzalez says his club usually makes between $1,000-$1,200 at the Pom Fest. He was able to use those funds to send wrestlers to postseason tournaments. This year, he is focusing on the younger wrestlers.

“Stuff like this, you have to get involved in the community,” Gonzalez said. “They did a great job promoting this event. This area is centrally located in town. You feel at home and like in a back yard.”

Jackie Lehman of Home Grown Cellars, a sponsor of the Pom Fest, was a proponent for moving the Pom Fest to the fairgrounds.

“It was great,” she said. “We have been pushing to come to the fairgrounds for a while. We had more people than ever, I’m sure.”

Lehman said they were busy once they opened the gates, and believe the move was a big reason for that.

“From the time they walked through the door, it’s been busy,” Lehman said. “For us, it will still keep going. As people will walk out, they will stop. We brought four bins of pomegranates and we can probably fill half a bin.

“I do think the move here helped. They were a lot of people that were able to get here. The fairgrounds is well known. The move made a big difference.”

Even with the increased attendance, Bray said, they were able to keep the family-type atmosphere with the facilities the fairgrounds had to offer.

“We were able to keep people there,” she said. “We had people from all over California. We have people from out of town, enthusiastic and wanted to see us go further. We want to increase elements of pomegranates and elements of Madera agriculture. We have to get those people to the table.”

Overall, Bray deemed the event a great success.

“What’s most important is that the vendors, sponsors and attendees are happy, then we’re successful,” she said. “That’s the true measure of success.”

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