The signs are all around. They can be seen all year long, each batch popping up as their annual turn comes up. In the spring and summer months there seems to be a bumper crop of them, the signs all proclaiming that the annual local festivals are coming to a town near you.
Each time you see one, you might be asking yourself, is it really worth going to? The answer to that question varies as much as the premise for each of the festivals themselves. In some cases, such as the Riverside Date Festival, most reviews give it an enthusiastic thumbs up (note: this is not a review for that festival, so please don't take it as such), in other cases, the answer should be a resounding NO! One such example of the later would sadly have to be the Beaumont Cherry Festival.
The few online reviews of this particular event make it seem as if it's a great time just waiting to be had. If you're a local to the Banning or Beaumont area, then it probably is. However, if you're not, then help save the environment, and don't waste the gas.
Not knowing this ahead of time, and being a crazed lover of almost anything cherry related, I decided to head out. I drove an hour to get there, and was able to find the location with relative ease (definitely a plus, as I worried that I'd get lost in the mountains trying to get there.) It takes place in one of the local parks, and from the outside looks like a really fun filled event. There are several carnival rides, and lots of bands playing all weekend long. (So, another plus for anyone with kids, or any music lovers out there.) However, parking is a bit of a bear, so using their free shuttle is the better option for most.
Sounds great so far, so what's the problem, you might be thinking to yourself? Well, here's the thing...at a Cherry Festival one should really be able to find lots of cherries shouldn't they? Not only did I expect to find them there, but I also expected for them to have been picked from local orchards as well. Needless to say, from the review I've given, you've probably already guessed that I was disappointed on both fronts.
Out of all the booths there, only two of them had any cherries at all. Both were being run as a fundraiser for the local cheer squad, and as with most of the people working the event, all the students were very friendly and happy to answer any questions I might have. (Yet another positive for this festival, one that really made me sad to give the final review that I did, I might add.) The cherries being sold were small, and didn't really look very good (perhaps due to the heat, 99 degrees on the Sunday that I went). I later found out that they were obtained from a local produce seller, who had acquired them from Northern California for the event. The pies that they sold were actually made by a bakery in Redlands, whose name I will not post, so as to not stain their reputation based on what I can only hope is an aberration of their true baking abilities. The slice of pie I bought cost $3, and I threw it away after only two bites. All in all, a real disappointment.
So, this brings us around to the environment. In addition to feeding my cherry addiction, I had also originally hoped to write an article on how to find locally grown cherries for your family. Sadly, the region seems to have taken a serious hit from the early heat wave we've been having. While at the festival I obtained a list of local orchards, and called around to see if I could get local cherries from some of them instead. A few of the locations flat out stated on the list that they didn't have cherries this season at all! The location that the festival obtained their cherries from had to source them from Northern California, as I mentioned above, so they were out of the running as well.
There was one u-pick facility left on the list, Guldseth Cherry Orchard, which did still have some cherries on their trees. So, up I went, into Cherry Valley to check them out. Once there, I learned that they weren't just the only orchard on the list that still allowed people to pick cherries themselves, but according to the guy manning the entrance, they are apparently one of the few in the area that are still open this season at all! We are at the end of the season, so there are fewer cherries due to that, but there seemed to be an unspoken hint that there might be more to it all. Looking at the product going into our local grocery stores the past couple of years, it seems that the heat might be creating some long term problems for our local growers. This in turn seems to also be impacting the nature of the Cherry Festival as well.
So, a word of caution: choose local festivals with care, because they might not turn out to be what you were expecting, for a variety of reasons. Take the time, and actually call or email the organizers. Most festival websites list contact information, and if they don't, then contact the local city hall. Either way, learn from my mistake, and find out details before you go. There are still good local festivals out there, you just have to find them first. Do a little homework, and then enjoy!