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Make a date for new Yuma festival
WHAT: Yuma Medjool Date Festival
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 17
WHERE: Downtown Yuma
WHAT'S HAPPENING: Cooking demonstrations and contests using dates, equipment display, live music and entertainment, street vendors, art exhibit
For more information: visit www.YumaMedjoolDateFestival.com or contact Perlita Wicks at 373-5021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although you wouldn't think of the Old West as a place to find a traditional treat of the Middle East, the Yuma-Bard area of the American desert Southwest is the world's largest producer of gourmet Medjool dates.
That's why this town on the banks of the Colorado River is busy making plans for the first Yuma Medjool Date Festival, to be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 17 in historic downtown.
“It's going to be a celebration of food, fun, family and all things dates,” said Perlita O. Wicks, coordinator for the city of Yuma Heritage Festivals, which is organizing the new event with Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers.
The event will kick off with free date muffins and coffee from 8 to 9:30 a.m. “Then serve up a whole day of everything you ever wanted to know about dates,” Wicks said.
That includes displays and demonstrations of specialized farm machinery developed specifically for cultivating and harvesting dates, as well as an exhibit of historic pictures, artifacts, equipment and more at the Yuma Art Center. Festival-goers also will have an opportunity to ask questions of two of the area's largest growers: Gus Nuñez and Steve Shadle.
But there will also be plenty of chances to sample date delights as well, with cooking demonstrations by local and international chefs — vote for your favorite dish. And a date milkshake contest that's open to all.
And you can leave the guilt at home because Medjool dates are a “super food” that's naturally fat-free, high in fiber, potassium and antioxidants, and low on the glycemic index. Bursting with flavor, chewy Medjools are so richly delicious that many first-time tasters can't believe they have no added sweetener.
Shaking things up in a whole different way, Zarmineh Moody and the Jawhara Belly Dance Group will provide an exotic flavor to a daylong schedule of music and dance.
Vendors will offer festive food, art and collectibles, so this is also the perfect place to pick up a unique holiday gift.
In addition, festival-goers can take a free tour of the nation's most advanced date-packing facility, operated in Yuma by Datepac LLC. Because there are a limited number of slots available for the tour, you must register in advance at the festival website, yumamedjooldatefestival.com.
Medjools are native to Morocco, but a disease there nearly destroyed the crop. To save the “fruit of kings” from extinction, 11 offshoots were brought to Nevada in 1927 for quarantine. In the 1940s, 24 offshoots of those original trees were planted in Bard Valley, where they thrived because of the low humidity and high heat. Groves also are being planted in Yuma County as a growing part of the local agriculture industry.
Today, there are about 5,000 acres of Medjool dates grown in the Bard and Yuma area of varying maturities, said Edward O'Malley, president of Datepac. That equates to about 12 million pounds of dates packed in the area.
Even Saudi Arabia imports Medjools from our corner of the world.
“The date industry in Yuma touches our community in all kinds of ways, from the elegant silhouette the date orchards add to our views to the inimitable flavor of a date shake,” said Juan Guzman, Datepac marketing manager. “This festival is an opportunity for the whole community to learn more about the wonderful world of Medjool dates and the hard work our growers put into making this natural delight available to all of us and all of the world.
“We're excited about giving the whole community an ‘inside look' at an unheralded side of our local ag industry. Come down for a taste of something that's uniquely Yuman.”
To add to the weekend fun, the 22nd annual Colorado River Crossing Balloon Festival takes off Nov. 16-18 from various locations around Yuma. Sponsored by the Caballeros de Yuma, this airy festival draws balloonists from as far away as England, features flights Friday, Saturday and Sunday and a “glow” Saturday evening.
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6853. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YSJoyceLobeck or on Twitter at @YSJoyceLobeck.