Oh food blog, how I have missed you so! I can’t believe it’s been about a year since my last post. Much has happened in that time. My husband, friends, family and I have worked very hard to make our house more homey. There are always more and more projects to work on. Currently, we are in the midst of tackling the backyard, installing drainage, watering and electrical lines, planter boxes and a retaining wall, which all includes moving a lot of dirt around. What a workout! I am so grateful that we have so many generous people to help out. Next year, we plan on install a patio deck, but until then I hope to get some more plants in the ground. I’ve been itching to start some semblance of a garden, but we need to fill in more dirt first. I’m also trying to figure out which type of fruit tree to plant along the back fence and found some recent inspiration after visiting nurseries with some of my girl friends last weekend. So many plans are in the works. I can’t wait!

In the meantime, I am volunteering for a second year in a row at the National Heirloom Exposition, which is organized by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a great Missourian company that features only non-GMO seeds in numerous varieties of flowers, fruits and vegetables but also gardening workshops. I cannot recommend this expo enough. Oh my goodness, I am having so much fun! It absolutely amazes me that such a national event is held here in Sonoma County, let alone that it was featured on Martha Stewart’s television show.

From the looks of it, 2011 was the first of many more years to come for the expo, especially as people travel from all over to attend, even from other countries. Like last year, I made a point to not only attend but also volunteer, and this year I’m scheduled to work two of the three days (about 12 hours), which means I get free admission, parking and hot lunches on both days and leftover produce at the close of the fair. How cool is that?! I saw and learned so much last year but only experienced a small portion of all of the events. The expo provides great opportunities to meet up with like-minded people and see folks from some of my favorite local farms and gourmet restaurants. This year I hope to try out some new foods.

It is absolutely amazing to see the astounding abundance of varieties of awesome organically grown heirloom fruits, vegetables and flowers. There were cultivars from all over the world that were brought in from all across the country, let alone from all over California, that I didn’t even know existed. Who knew there are red eggplants, prickly cucumbers and olive-shaped squash? Well, I do now. There are many many kinds of watermelon, for instance, with skins in various shades of green, golden, yellow and white that were solid colored, striped, splotched or spotted but had inner flesh in solid colors of pink, red, white, yellow, orange or bi-color combinations. Even the seeds varied in color and pattern. here must have been hundreds of watermelons alone, no to mention eggplants, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, pumpkins, gourds, squash, cucumbers, poultry and other exciting heirlooms. I know there are even more heirloom fruits and vegetables available, which makes me wish that there was an expo for every harvest season, since we only get to see produce that’s available at this time of year. I’d love to see different types of berries and stone fruits, but their peak seasons are over during this time of year. It would also be fantastic to see more species of heirloom flowers, too.

There is so much going on, it’s impossible to see everything. The California Rare Fruit Growers also sponsor an exhibit with tastings in the main hall (I keep forgetting to preregister), which is interesting, since some of the inner flesh colors and patters are so different from normal store-bought fruit. There are tons of free samples to try from several other farmers and vendors all over the expo, too, but there’s also a little farmers market for people to actually buy heirloom produce and seeds to take home. Some farmers also enter their finest produce in competitions based on appearance, flavor, size and weight. The pumpkin size contest is incredible with some of the entries weighing in at over 1000 pounds. They’re humongous! Not only are there displays of tables after tables of vegetables and fruits but a whole section of the fairgrounds is dedicated to heirloom animals. I hope they have more mammals this year, like rabbits. Wednesday is kids’ day with elementary classes coming from all over Sonoma County to learn sustainable gardening and farming; in addition, many of the schools are represented in a special exhibit by their gardening projects, displaying photos, schematics and diagrams.

During all three days, there are several educational agriculture lectures given by speakers from near and far. There are topics concerning sustainable agriculture, growing certain species of fruit, interactions of edible plants and weeds, hydration systems, soil, etc.  In addition, I think there are two screens showing back-to-back food-related documentary films all day, likewise on a variety of subjects. I hope I can fit some interesting lectures and movies into my schedule this year, as last year I wanted to hear the blueberry and agroecology lectures but was working at those times. There is also a small art exhibit in the main hall with agriculture-themed paintings, sculptures, embroidery, pressed flowers, and the like. The expo is like visiting a gourmet food fest, health food fair, sustainable gardening and farming fair, art and garden show, county fair, workshop series, movie marathon, agricultural fair, interactive science museum, farmers market and concert series all in one!

The fair always seems better than I anticipate, and it gets larger and gains greater attendance by visitors and vendors each year. I imagine it would probably attract an even more people if it wasn’t held in the middle of the week.  Last year, I went a little photo crazy; I must have taken pictures of most everything, which made me feel a bit like a tourist. I know this year I’m going to take pictures, too, but hopefully even better ones. I also hope I’m not doubling up on subjects that I took pictures of already. There’s so much to see. There are a bunch of pictures in the gallery below from last year, but these aren’t even a third of the collection so far. I do hope to post more after my second day. I’m having such a great time, I know I want to volunteer again next year.

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