Today is our local Avocado Festival. I don’t plan to go this year. My spouse went very early, before the crowds arrived, for some fresh produce and a carne asada burrito.
I would’ve titled this post with the name of the actual festival we had here in town today, except that I’m going to criticize it a little bit, and I don’t want to cast a shadow over that particular event for any locals who otherwise enjoy it. My criticism isn’t about just our Avocado Festival.
The positive side is, I’m eating a strawberry. That’s always a good thing. In fact, I’m rich today, with three little baskets of strawberries and a good week or two’s supply of avocados. Not only that, we got some of the avocados for free, from a local business near one of the avocado packing plants. Presumably they’re cast offs from the preparation for the festival, since they aren’t very pretty ones. But they’re still delicious, and dead ripe, so I already got to enjoy some for breakfast. My favorite way to eat avocado is mashed with salt and pepper and spread on toast. Since I live with my favorite bread baker, this is the ultimate easy (for me) and delicious breakfast.
My rant is not about the immense crowd that will be there later today, even though I’m not a crowd person. I can handle crowds, and even enjoy them, in small doses. My rant is not about the local vendors who show up each year. It’s not even about the non-local vendors who show up there. After all, everybody’s got to make a buck, right? Some of the vendors are wonderful.
You can get the best local tacos, tamales, and burritos at our Avocado Festival that you’ve ever eaten, and there’s always a nice supply of fresh avocados, of course. Then there’s the standard fair fare, funnel cakes and lemonade and . . . well, the list goes on. We don’t buy most of that standard fair food, so I’m not even aware of what it all is. We usually go for the Mexican food. Some of it’s not available year round, even here, because it’s from groups or businesses that put out a special effort just for the festival. It’s a rare treat, and one of the great draws of the festival for us in the years we attend.
In the years that we attend, we’ve learned to walk there early, as soon as the booths are opening. That way we avoid the biggest crowds and the worst heat.
I’m not sure why, but the day of the Avocado Festival is always hot, even though we can get some pretty cool weather in April. Three days ago we had a high of something like 67 degrees Fahrenheit and the nighttime temp dipped into the low 40s. I wore long sleeves all day, and sometimes a sweater. Yesterday the high was over 80, and today promises to be at least that. (Update, it got up to 93 in town today!) But as usual, of those two weather patterns, the festival happens to fall on the warmer day. Or should I say the warmer day happens to fall on the festival day — the festival was planned well in advance.
Because of the heat and the larger size of the crowd later in the day, and some combination of those factors that seems to make everyone tired and cranky by afternoon, the feeling of the late day crowd changes in a way that becomes distinctly unpleasant for me. So if I don’t go early, I’m not likely to go at all. In fact, I’d just as soon the booths opened at six in the morning rather than nine.
What bothers me about the festival is now fairly universal, I suspect, to local festivals and fairs all over the country. There are very few locals selling handcrafts and artwork anymore. Many of the vendors that sell non-food and non-produce items — and some of the food vendors as well — have traveled from other places. Some of them make the rounds of, possibly, every local festival and county fair in the state, and maybe more than one state. Some are from industry, manufacturers’ representatives selling things like secure mailboxes and automatic sprinkler systems, the sorts of things you expect at home shows and trade fairs, not unique to an Avocado Festival. Some are selling manufactured clothing and home decoration items that I can buy at a department store or a swap meet. The traveling vendors have always been around, but lately they seem to be the only ones. Where are the locals? To me this trend of increasing numbers of non-local vendors is like finding the same chain restaurants everywhere you travel. That used to disappoint me when traveling on business. If there’s any perk to having to take business trips, it’s discovering local eateries that are unique to the city you’re visiting. But if you travel to another place only to eat at Outback or Chilis, you might as well have stayed home. Why go to the local festival to buy the same items that will be sold at the county fair two months from now? More importantly, why go to find items you can buy at the department or hardware store? The point of a local festival, I thought, was to find things that can be found in only one place, to celebrate that location’s unique qualities and products.
I’m glad that we still have some local businesses that sell food and a few other items there. In the years I attend, if I go early, I can pick and choose which places to visit, and I usually enjoy myself. But I miss the kinds of things we used to see more of and that I always loved festivals and fairs for: handcrafts, local artists’ work, and those really unique and unusual items that once were only found at local fairs. They seem be rare these days, almost extinct.
I’m sure there’s a reason for this. Perhaps it has to do with the process of arranging to sell at one of these events, that it’s become so business-oriented that it shuts out local artists and craftspeople. Perhaps people don’t have time anymore to make things themselves and arrange to sell them locally unless that’s their full time business. If it is their full time business, they likely have to travel from fair to fair to make it pay off year-round.
We see some of those traveling vendors selling beautiful things, like handmade herbal soaps, stunning hand-carved gourd art, and some unique pottery. It’s great stuff, and I’m glad it’s there. But, whatever the reason it’s not there, I still find the lack of local handcrafts and artwork at these events sad. I know some of the vendors hate it when I ask, “Are you from around here?” But I continue to ask. It doesn’t mean that I won’t buy what they’re selling, if I love it and can afford it. But I can’t help being more enthusiastic about finding local goods that I love at our local festival.
The only other rant I have is, where are the hats? This is the time of year our warm weather sets in. In the past I’ve arrived at the festival only to wish I’d brought a hat. I can’t be the only one. There used to be hats for sale all over the place there. I usually bought my hat there to use for yard work or walking around in the sun for any reason, because it was the right time of year and they had a nice selection for good prices. Last year I hardly saw any hats. Maybe they were there and so few that I never came across them. I hope at least the hats were back this year.
Last year, too few local handcrafts, too few hats. This year I’m not going to the festival. Can anyone connect the dots?
Maybe the real problem is that I’m not like other people who attend. Maybe most people prefer mass-manufactured, universally available things. Who knew that would become the major draw of a local festival? Maybe it’s just me.
In any case, I’m happy for the strawberries and avocados. It’s a good day.