The 73rd annual Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival began Friday but the festival is becoming less about the dates and more about the fair rides and food to the point that was no on-site vendor just a couple of years ago, but a local man is trying to bring back the dates to the Date Festival.
Wayne Gilbert is a retired plumber and he is the reason why there is now at least one date vendor at the fair.
“I go all over here and we are not representing our dates, we are the number one grower in the world,” Gilbert said. “If I can get 17 booths back here again that’s my goal.”
The festival began in the late 1940s to celebrate the end of the annual date harvest in the Coachella Valley.
But as the years went by the exposure grew for local date farmers and at the same time, mechanical rides and other attractions were added to the festival.
The Fair Manager, Veronica Casper, said local date growers began to slowly withdraw from the fair.
Casper said, “The local growers did not need us much, Wayne and his group with Mark, they came in and they started selling dates for us so that we still have a date presence.”
The only date vendor this year is Aziz Farms from Thermal and the owner Mark Tadros said there are perks to being the only one on site.
Tadros said, “We get a really interesting opportunity to be able to go out and test new products on a very small scale.”
Tadros volunteers his time and products as the earning from the dates goes to a scholarship fund.
Casper said, “They go to our local FFA groups the Four H kids we also have the queen Scheherazade and her court who receives scholarships.”
As for Gilbert, he wants more local date growers to join and said the Coachella Valley should be proud of one of its main exports.
Gilbert said, “We have it, I just want to rejuvenate it, I want people to come back here to see new date items on the menu next year to see what’s happening with the date festival.”
The Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival continues through February 24.