Get in the ‘spear it’ this weekend with asparagus festival

June 10, 2015

NAF parade 4By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

HART — Leading the way as one of the top producers of asparagus in the nation, Oceana County will celebrate its claim to fame this weekend with the 42nd Annual National Asparagus Festival.

The 2015 Asparagus Queen Courtney Kokx, left,  and Runner Up Konnie Vandervelde.

The 2015 Asparagus Queen Courtney Kokx, left, and Runner Up Konnie Vandervelde.

Events begin Friday, June 12, and continue through Sunday, June 14.

The uniqueness of the festival is a big draw. There are only two other festivals similar to it in the entire country — the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival in Stockton, Calif. and the Empire Asparagus Festival in Empire, Mich. The Oceana festival is the only one with an Asparagus Queen. This year’s queen is Courtney Kokx of Hart, and Runner-up is Konnie Vandervelde, who grew up in the Mears/Silver Lake area.

The queen element of the festival is such a huge draw that it gained national attention in 2014 when it was featured in an article in the Wall Street Journal.

But the quirky festival’s main focus that draws 5,000 people to the community every year is that tasty green vegetable.

“I think that when the festival started 42 years ago, Americans were eating meat, potatoes, corn and peas. And ‘green’ vegetables were not popular, so promoting the vegetable itself was the priority,” said NAF Queen Coordinator Christine Rickard. “People from all over the United States come. Now years later, when veggies are cooked in every way imaginable, our asparagus sells itself…people like it or they don’t, but those who NAF art fair 1do cannot get enough of it. When we are in parades all over Michigan, spectators shout out, ‘We LOVE asparagus!’ We are very fortunate to have many younger board of director members who have lots of energy and the vision to keep the festival alive for future generations. Asparagus is a funky thing to celebrate and I think people come (to the festival) because it is just plain fun.”

NAF food show -2The festival would not be possible without the tireless efforts of its many volunteers. In addition to Rickard, the NAF board includes President Leroy Glover, Vice President/Treasurer Jesse Rickard, Secretary Janelle Johnson and board members Jessica Woodworth and Michele Amstutz.

Many favorite activities return this year, including the highlight event — the Joan Glover National Asparagus Festival Parade Saturday at 2 p.m. through downtown Hart. A couple new parade entries are the Oceana PickleBall Club and the Vermontville Maple Syrup Queen, along with several others. “Our own mascot, GUS, will be riding or maybe even driving a tractor for 4 Seasons Landscaping,” Rickard said.

An entertainment tent in the Hart Pizza parking lot will serve as the venue for two concerts. The Oceana Drive Band is set to perform after the parade at 3:30 p.m., and Rocket Fuel Haulers will take the stage that evening.

Another popular returning event is the Spear-It 5K Walk/Run in Silver Lake Saturday, NAF 5beginning at 9 a.m. To register and for more information, visit goracego.

For more information about the festival and all of the events, visit National Asparagus Festival. Or, you can visit the NAF information booth in the office space next to La Fiesta in downtown Hart. You will find an assortment of asparagus-related merchandise. “We have t-shirts, hats, totes, drinking cups, bumper stickers, pickled asparagus, asparagus salsa and guacamole, asparagus soap and cookbooks,” said Rickard. “We will have a drawing to give away one cookbook and one jar of pickled asparagus. There are also some freebies, including our recipe for our award-winning ‘Gus Chili.’”

A popular event is the farm tour Saturday morning. Enjoy a 45-60 minute tour of an asparagus farm in Oceana County. Witness the harvesting, and talk with growers about the industry. “The farm tour will load at the Information Center, Rickard said. “Seating is limited and leaves promptly at 10 a.m.”

NAF 2Rickard is working to generate more interest in the queen competition. “We are now having a public information meeting in late March for women to attend and learn more about running for queen — the ‘hows, whens and whys’; learn about obtaining a sponsor and meet the current queen, runner-up and queen coordinator; ask questions in a no-commitment setting; and see if they are able to consider running. I think this will become popular. Committed applicants attend the Queen’s Tea in early May.

“Our 2014 Queen Danielle Kokx joins our vision of getting our local youth involved again, so next year we hope to bring back our young royalty in some way…so stay tuned.”

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