One Hundred and Two Almond Festivals!
Here in the Capay Valley we take our traditions seriously. February, first coined as Almond Festival month in 1915 is no exception. It starts as the almond trees begin their month long blooming period, when the valley is dotted with pink and white puffy blossoms on dark trunks along the hillsides and valley floor. Some of the orchards date back to the early 1900’s – planted by farming settlers who often dry-farmed in the hills. Their gnarled twisted trunks are testimony to a struggling history of farming on the rugged hot hills. In more recent years many new plantings have sprouted up on the rich Valley soil, comprising over 2,000 acres.
The real tradition of the Almond month begins in the third week of February when the Almond Queen Pageant is held in Yolo County’s only Grange Hall – the Guinda Grange. This hall, dating back to 1910, provides a perfect home for the annual dinner and competition among a group of the Valley’s finest high school seniors. These young women are judged on scholastic prowess, community involvement, an interview session, and their crowning moment – a speech to the dinner’s attendees. In the speech they answer a series of questions that often revolve around the rural theme of growing up in the valley and how their lives may have been shaped by the agricultural flavor of the area. Over 250 locals pack into the Hall for the evening of farm food and speeches, and all are anxious to see who the winner will be. Tears and clapping abound as each one of the woman present their practiced speeches, and family members watch on in pride. The crowning of the Queen is a special moment in all of their lives, though it is less about the actual “crown” and more about celebrating each young woman as an individual. The Queens prestigious duty is to reign over the valley’s Almond Festival the next weekend.
The actual Almond Festival itself, traditionally held the last Sunday in February, is one of California’s longest running agricultural-based festivals. At the south end of the Valley the town of Esparto kicks off the day with a now famous Pancake Breakfast, a fundraiser for the High School’s Ag Department and local Future Farmers of America. The park in Esparto is filled with vendors and local non-profits, and the local library has its biggest annual event in a used book sale. Going further north the towns of Capay and Guinda both have demonstrations revolving around the history and agricultural heritage of the area – crafters selling quilts and baby blankets, knitters selling sweaters and hats, Granny Wyatt’s Legendary Almond Roca and a blacksmithing demonstration. There are lots of options for food. The Fire Department serves grilled sausages and oysters in Guinda and there is tri-tip for sale at the Grange.
The town of Rumsey, at the north end of the Valley, is perhaps the jewel of all five towns, with the beautiful old Rumsey Town Hall, built in 1903 and maintained by volunteers. Rumsey pulls out all the stops, with music, wood-fired pizzas using all local ingredients, and a farmers market, which includes some of the valleys’ finest growers. Full Belly Farm is actively involved in this town’s activities – tossing 500 pizzas during the day and running a market stall with all our best flowers and produce. Olive oil, lavender soaps, native plants, locally brewed beer and, yes, almonds are for sale all day.
Full Belly’s Ramsey pizza crew
Please join us for this the 102nd Almond Festival on Sunday, February 26th 2017. There is no admission charge to the 5-town event but be prepared to buy some delicious food, homemade crafts and of course, yummy almonds!