News From the Farm | February 17, 2020

 One Hundred and Five Almond Festivals!

Here in the Capay Valley we take our traditions quite seriously – no messing around. February, first coined as Almond Festival month in 1915, is no exception. Starting early in February, as the almond trees begin their month-long blooming period, the valley is dotted with pink and white puffy blossoms on dark trunks all along the hillsides and valley floor. Some of these 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 of this much-heralded nut, with many new varieties and modern farming techniques.

The real tradition of the Almond Festival 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 between a group of the Valley’s finest high school seniors. These young woman are judged on scholastic prowess, community involvement, an interview session and their crowning moment – giving a speech to the dinner’s attendees. The speech questions that they are given 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 150 locals pack into the Grange Hall for the evening of farm food and speeches and all are anxious to see who that year’s winner will be. Tears and clapping abound as each one of the women 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 –the Queen’s prestigious duty is to reign over the Almond Festival the next weekend.

The actual Almond Festival itself, traditionally held the last Sunday in February (next Sunday!), is one of California’s longest running agriculturally-based festivals and is the only festival of its kind that encompasses five different townships all showcasing the Capay Valley’s finery. 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 Ag Department and FFA at the local High School. The park in Esparto is filled with vendors and local non-profits; the local library has its biggest event in a used book sale. Going farther 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, the Grange showcasing Granny Wyatts Legendary Almond Roca alongside blacksmithing demonstrations.

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 building as its backdrop. Built in 1903 this National Historic Building was renovated by dedicated volunteers in the last fifteen years and is a gorgeous spot for the town’s Festival activities. Rumsey pulls out all the stops for the weekend 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 of our best flowers and produce. Olive oil, lavender soaps, native plants, locally brewed beer and yes – almonds – are for sale throughout the day.

The second generation of Full Belly farmers are very active in the entire Festival planning process.  Hannah (a former queen pageant winner) now spearheads decorating for the Queen pageant at the Hall. Amon, Jenna, Rye and Becca coordinate the food booths in Rumsey. It is a delight to see them carrying on the Festival’s values and bringing in new ideas and energy into a century old tradition. 

Please join us for the 105th Almond Festival on Sunday, February 23th 2020 8am to 4pm. There is no admission charge but be prepared to buy some delicious food, homemade crafts and of course – yummy almonds!

— Dru Rivers