Thursday, September 11, 2014

The National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa

I still remember the first time I saw a Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog. My aunt had given it to me along with a gift certificate for a birthday gift when I was in my mid-20s. After all these years, Baker Creek is still my favorite seed company. Every winter I  love to curl up with their colorful catalog and dream of my spring garden.

Last year, I desperately wanted to attend the National Heirloom Expo that Baker Creek sponsors every year in Santa Rosa (about 2 hours from my home), but with a colicky 3-month-old baby, it just wasn't feasible.

This year, we finally made it to the Expo, and it was so much more than I expected. Imagine the State Fair meets Farmer's Market with a dash of Woodstock, plus a series of speakers on various food and gardening issues. It was Kid's Day when we went yesterday, so we got in free for bringing our daughter with us- hooray!

Let's begin at the entrance of the expo. There was a large presence of those supporting food industry transparency and promoting the labeling of GMOs...

Amongst other political ideas (obligatory "legalize pot" dude not pictured)...  I thought this game was pretty funny.


Petaluma Pete tinkled the ivory near the entrance, and...

 ... this guy was carving a massive pumpkin right next to him. I'm not sure what that sign means, but whatever!

  It took us forever to choose what to eat for lunch because there were so many excellent local  food vendors present selling their wares. (We did NOT end up splurging on the $14 burger below. It just felt wrong, especially with no side dishes.)

  My daughter loved looking at the long-haired sheep and goats on display-

  - while I was fascinated by this woman using traditional methods to make yarn from the wool.

  There were so many amazing vendors featuring fun gardening themed products! Just a few samples:


 Have you ever been given free Strauss Family Creamery vanilla bean ice cream? After this, I can say that I have! Best free ice cream I have ever eaten!

  I mentioned there was a dash of Woodstock at the Expo, meaning there were hippies and live music. Instead of rock bands, the stage was dominated by bluegrass bands, and some pretty good ones at that. I love me some bluegrass, and my daughter loved playing with the display squashes and dancing to the music.

  There was one area devoted to a display of biodynamic gardening, including composting, rain barrels, and compost tea-making. I especially appreciated the sheet mulching demo, as we are preparing to convert our ugly half-dead lawn to something more drought-tolerant and (hopefully) attractive:

Finally, the main exhibit area boasted the tallest mountain of squash I have ever seen...

 Watermelon carving and an heirloom watermelon taste testing:

Prize-winning pumpkins weighing over a thousand pounds!


 And just hundreds of varieties of heirloom melons, squashes, tomatoes, and more. There were also rare fruits, school garden and composting displays, and more. I found a lot of information that I hope will be useful as I participate in starting our local school garden in the coming year- even better!


My only regret was not getting to attend more of the gardening lectures. I would love to have heard more, but my one-year-old can only be patient for so long.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was how many freebies I walked away with when we left the Expo. Besides many samples of free food (all good EXCEPT the beet kvass- not my thing!), I also got a dial seed scatterer, a bottled supplement called Strange Brew, a bag of free compost, a free herbal tea mix, and a bag full of free seeds for kids. The vendors were interesting and unique- selling everything from butterfly water dishes to pickling devices to locally harvested seaweed and locally made tempeh.

I would love to go to the National Heirloom Expo yearly. It was a gardener's dream come true.