Almond blossoms are everywhere at the moment on Full Belly Farm – filling the air with honey scented smells and brightly dotting Highway 16 as it winds the twenty two miles up the Capay Valley. Along the way the five small towns of our region, Esparto, Capay, Brooks, Guinda and Rumsey (collective population of 5,000), are busy preparing for the big Almond Blossom Festival which will be Sunday, March 11th. This crop- based festival was started nearly 100 years ago to showcase our area and draw visitors to purchase our particular crop, almonds. Many other areas in our state have crop- based festivals: the Stockton Asparagus Festival, Gilroy Garlic Festival, Tulelake Horseradish Festival, and Kelseyville Pear Festival are just a few of the agricultural celebrations that occur each year. Capay Valley natives will tell you that the Almond Festival is the best of the best reasons to bring outsiders in – celebrating the beauty and pride a community has in its special rooted place.
The festivities actually kicked off this weekend with the crowning of the Almond Queen. Many of us from Full Belly Farm piled into the Grange Hall in Guinda on Saturday night – along with a hundred other locals – and excitedly watched as 5 high school senior girls vied for the coveted title. The candidates had written essays, been interviewed and the culminating event was their speech presented to the gathered crowd. The speech topic this year was “The Capay Valley region is rich in culture, community and tradition. How has our rural valley shaped you into who your are today and who you want to become in the future?” The speeches were grand – even spectacular. These girls somehow understand their fortune at having grown up in an area where everyone is a neighbor and old fashioned traditions are still honored. They spoke of a 90 year old women giving them pearls of wisdom that have shaped their lives and of farm work instilling in them a sense of real honest sweat. All of them spoke to the sense of pride and love they felt towards their valley and their hope to someday continue on the traditions that they have grown up with. The eloquent speeches (surpassing presidential candidates by far!) addressed immigration, education and land preservation in a way that sent tingles of hope to the audience that our future is in good hands. The Almond Queen’s prestigious duty is to ride up and down the valley during the Almond Festival, giving the festival- goers a chance to catch a glimpse of her royal wave!
Full Belly Farm has become intertwined in the planning process of the festival itself – which in a small community is essential to the survival of events such as these. Having grown up attending the festival and pageant as children, our Full Belly farm ”˜kids’ are now integral to the running of the events. My daughter Hallie, who is also Full Belly’s Outreach and Education Director, is the Almond Queen Pageant coordinator. My sons, Amon and Rye, and daughter-in-law, Jenna, are planning on making pizzas in their wood fired pizza oven on the day of the festival. Andrew’s children, Jonas and Ellis, can be found experiencing the festival – and brainstorming ideas for the future. This generation of young adults are bringing to new ideas and energy to a valley in need of young blood to take over. This is the way a rural community passes on the torch with love and pride.
The Almond Festival day itself is also steeped in tradition, with the town of Guinda selling “Granny Wyatts Legendary Almond Roca” alongside blacksmithing demonstrations and crafters selling homemade quilts and baby blankets. In the town of Rumsey the events happen in the Town Hall, a building built in 1903 and beautifully restored by an all volunteer community group. This year there will be a sheep to shawl demonstration with a working loom and spinning wheel, as well as an almond equipment show where you can see the old and new in almond harvesting equipment. Hayrides will take take visitors over the historic Rumsey bridge while listening to old timers tell tale of the valley long ago. Full Belly Farm and many other local farmers will be there to sell their produce and products including jelly, jam, honey and olive oil. The town of Esparto, in the southern end of the valley, starts the day off with a Pancake Breakfast that supports the Agriculture Department in the High School – it really shouldn’t be missed for its omelettes brimming with goodies. For a full schedule of events for the five town line-up, visit the official Almond Festival Website. For those coming to the Full Belly Farm open farm day on Saturday March 10th, please consider staying the night at the farm and joining the community events on Sunday. We hope to see you there!