STOCKTON, Calif. — The 2019 San Joaquin County Asparagus Festival started this Friday at the County Fairgrounds in Stockton.
The event, which celebrates San Joaquin County’s rich history with asparagus, offers more than 20 different ways to eat the green spear.
Asparagus infused ice cream, waffles, cheese steak, and gyros are a few of the items you can get — the friend asparagus was a newsroom favorite.
The festival has roots going back 34 years, said Fair Organizer Tony Noceti, adding that the annual festival was in danger of closing, but he stepped up to keep it going.
“This to me has always been the crown jewel of Stockton, California,” Noceti said. “That’s why when I saw that there was an issue that it was gonna close up, I said no we got to keep it for the people. Cause this is something Stockton’s very proud of.”
San Joaquin County farmers once grew nearly 20,000 acres of asparagus per year. In 2017, that dropped to 1,300 acres amidst competition from growers in Mexico.
In early April, ABC10 spoke with Asparagus Grower Jeff Klein, whose family farm supplied the veggies for the festival. Klein said the rising costs of labor outweigh what he could get for his crop on the open market — compared to the growing supply of cheaper asparagus brought in from Mexico. As a result, he literally had to dump his crop this year.
"When they can buy Mexican asparagus for 50 cents a pound and sell it for $3.99 in the store and make eight times their money, they have no reason to support me," he said.
The festival donates thousands of dollars each year to local community groups. This weekend, some 700 volunteers from 40 non-profit groups are helping deep fry asparagus for the festival.
For each hour worked, the festival will donate money to the volunteer’s organization. The festival donated more than $400,000 to non-profit groups since 2015.
Adult tickets are $15, teenagers and seniors are $12, children 5 and under are free, and parking is $6. Festival organizers expect between 70,000 and 90,000 visitors over the three day weekend.
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ONE MORE FROM ABC10: Local farmer: I can't compete with imported asparagus | Extended Interview
Jeff Klein, with Klein Family Farms, tells ABC10 that the 10,000-acre farm is "discing out" 200 acres of perfectly good asparagus because he can't compete with imported asparagus from Mexico. That means that after all of his hard work, his crop is literally going to waste because it isn't being purchased.