The California Strawberry Festival in Oxnard included an eating contest, and the victor shares his secret.
Juan Carlo, VC Star
The bright red berry that is a pillar of Ventura County agriculture drew tens of thousands of visitors to Oxnard’s College Park on Saturday for the 36th California Strawberry Festival.
The event, which continues Sunday, features food, rides, entertainment, vendors, crafts and — of course — the namesake fruit sprawled across the park at 3250 S. Rose Ave., next to Oxnard College.
Some came to buy fresh strawberries from one of several growers’ stands.
Nataliya Novikova and Patricia Bothuel had stacked full trays of berries from Faria Farms LLC on a hand truck for an annual haul.
“We do this every year,” Novikova said. They make strawberry shortcake for friends, smoothies for Novikova’s son, and once tried making jam. Some of the supply ends up in the freezer, Bothuel said.
Glen Hasegawa, a surfer who owns Faria Farms, said the event gives him a chance to meet customers face to face. The company sells berries wholesale, he said, so he doesn’t normally deal with the public.
“I like being at the festival to talk to people about it because they ask a lot of questions,” Hasegawa said. “It’s good — you can educate the public.”
He grows on about 200 acres as part of a family farm that has been operating for more than 50 years. Strawberries, along with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, are sold under the label Rincon Fresh in a nod — along with Faria — to local surf spots.
The Oxnard Plain is one of California’s major growing areas for strawberries. Strawberries are Ventura County’s top crop in terms of value, accounting for some $654.3 million of the county’s $2 billion-plus agriculture industry in 2017, according to the most recent county crop report.
The Golden State produces about 88 percent of strawberries grown in the United States, according to the California Strawberry Commission, with a total annual value of about $2 billion. Other major growing areas include Santa Maria and Watsonville/Salinas.
The weekend festival is aimed at families and has something for just about everyone.
San Fernando Valley residents Ben Freeman and Adam Gilad drove up with their daughters, Amelya and Alma, respectively, both 3½.
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“I came when I was a little kid,” Freeman said as the girls happily went on ride after ride. Freeman said he has great memories from his childhood visits and hopes the girls, who are fast friends, will have their own fond recollections.
What’s more, they’re strawberry fans.
“Our daughters love them,” Freeman said.
The festival features multiple stages with live entertainment, strawberries concocted about every way imaginable, including deep fried, on kabobs and pizza, in poppers and popcorn and, naturally, with shortcake. A large area with craft booths offers shopping opportunities. Auto manufacturers and an Indian Motorcycle trailer pleased vehicle enthusiasts.
On Saturday, Emily Falke, of Santa Barbara, won the recipe contest with with her sweet spicy savory strawberry salsa-drenched fried avocado soft tacos.
The California Strawberry Festival runs again Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors 62 and over and for active military members and dependents with ID, and $5 for children 5 to 12. Kids under 5 get in free.
Parking is $10, or free shuttles operate from the Camarillo Premium Outlet and several Oxnard sites including the Topa Financial Towers at 300 E. Esplanade Drive, the Oxnard Transportation Center at 201 E. Fourth Street, Santa Clara High School at 2121 Saviers Road and from Channel Islands Harbor.
Gretchen Wenner covers breaking news for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-437-0270.
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