A Day at the Gravenstein Apple Fair

Written By: Executive Director Tawny Tesconi
Published: September 3, 2019

A few weeks back I got to experience one of Sonoma County’s true jewels – the Gravenstein Apple Fair. Produced by the Sonoma County Farm Trails small team of staff and board members, the festival-like event is held at Ragle Park in Sebastopol.

Sonoma County Farm Bureau was fortunate to be a fair sponsor and, as part of our participation, had a promotional booth with activities for the many kids in attendance. Brytann Busick on our team did a beautiful job getting Farm Bureau in front of the thousands of fairgoers. Boatloads of kids went home with a hanging birdfeeder made from peanut butter and wild bird seed paste that lined a crater carved in an apple half. (Well, at least I hope these handcrafted art pieces made it home and not squished in the carpet of the minivan). Rumor has it one adult actually ate his birdfeeder as he left the booth. I get the apple and peanut butter craving, but the bird seed would be a definite deterrent. Our amazing Young Farmers & Ranchers group had their American AgCredit sponsored kids’ tractors on site. It was a huge draw as kids of all ages lined up to pedal their way to the finish line. There was also sheep shearing demonstrations, pig races and hand-on experiences offering even the most novice attendee the opportunity to learn a new craft.

If I were asked to describe the Gravenstein Apple Fair to someone who have never attended before, I’d say it as if the old-fashioned event portrayed in the 1962 iconic movie “Our State Fair” was meshed with the Renaissance Fair. Farm animals, homemade preserves and straw bales galore are infused with whimsical windchimes, folk music and face painters. And the breeze that waives through the park carries a hint of fresh apple as folks like the Walker and Dutton families sell boxes of locally grown apples to loyal customers and first-time preservers.

Time stands still at the Fair. Among the beautiful oak trees and colorful decorations, all the hustle and bustle of our busy lives seemed to get checked at the fair entrance and fairgoers were transported to a Shangri-La like experience. There is a friendly, peaceful aura that engulfs the event and people relax their stance, slow their pace and enjoy each other’s company.

I am a self-proclaimed eventoligist. (Don’t bother looking it up – it’s a word of my own invention). Whenever I attend an event, theme park or any gathering, I critique it. What signage do they have? What prop ideas are unique that I can tell others about? How efficient are their operations? The list goes on and on. At times, I wish I could just shutoff my critic inner voice enjoy an event but I can’t… the need to evaluate is second nature to me. I blame this on all those years of being on 4-H, FFA and collegiate livestock judging teams.

The observation that will be penned as the most notable takeaway from this event is that folks were happy and engaged. They were thoughtfully absorbing in all the event had to offer and most importantly, with the exception of picture taking, people were not on their cell phones. There was so much to experience and appreciate, that the outside stimulus from Facebook or Snapchat was not welcomed. It was incredible!

As an eventologist with a specialization in county fairs, this observation was eye-opening to me. In the fair industry, we are conditioned to look for the latest, greatest, fastest, and biggest. The mantra is that fairs should feature today’s fads and interests, the most heart-dropping carnival rides and monstrosity food stands with electronic menu boards and video screens. Fairs are slipping away from their roots…yet the Gravenstein Apple Fair has successfully embraced those roots. There are no thrill rides, deep-fried twinkies or “as seen on TV’ gadgets to
purchase. Instead, the Gravenstein Fair offers fresh flowers, locally grown foods, artisan wares and educational and entertaining hands-on, simple activities. Could it be that as much as our society strives to find more ways to interact with one another without sharing the same physical space; that when we do come together as a society, we want a pure, unplugged experience? Definitely something this eventologist needs to ponder.

My 4-H hat is off to the folks at our sister organization, the Sonoma County Farm Trails – you rocked it!

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