Walla Walla, WA, is home turf for the signature Walla Walla sweet onion, Washington's state vegetable. But it also fertile territory for its namesake event, the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival. "This is the 29th year for the festival," said Kathy Fry-Trommald, director of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee. "What we're trying to do is make it a growth environment. We encourage people to come to Walla Walla to check out all the exceptional things we have to offer."
A jam-packed slate of events has been scheduled for the two-day festival,which begins July 20. "This is our sixth year in downtown Walla Walla," Ms. Fry-Trommald told The Produce News. The event kicks off with an early Saturday morning Fun Run, and attendees will have a chance to watch the Steppin' Country Dance Team in the late morning.
Walla Walla sweet onions are known as an object of culinary desire, and Ms. Fry-Trommald said she expects this year's Salad "Slaw-ter" A Food Competition will be lively. "We will have a salsa competition again this year as well as a French onion soup competition," she said. Saturday cooking activities will include demonstrations by Chef Antonio Campolio and Chef Grant from The Marc Restaurant. The first day of activities will culminate in a street dance, which begins in the early evening.
The young as well as the young at heart will return for a second day of festival fun. Activities scheduled include food demonstrations by Chef Mandi Konen and Chef Eric Johnson from The Marc Restaurant as well as separate onion-eating contests for children and adults. Children's activities include sweet onion sack races, sweet onion bowling, Bald as an Onion contest and face painting.
Food vendors will be available during the event, and musical entertainment will be provided on both days.
Ms. Fry-Trommald said the festival continues to gain in popularity year by year. "We don't monitor attendance figures," she said. "But we look at how long the streets stay full."
The benefits of the festival are both tangible and intangible. "It's becoming more widely recognized. It gives the community something to be proud of," she said. "It furthers our name. And it gives people a reason to come to Walla Walla."
A week before the festival takes place, the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Committee will launch Restaurant Week. "This is our second year," Ms. Fry-Trommald said. A special Facebook page has been created to showcase local eateries that incorporate Walla Walla sweet onions into dishes on their menus. Last year, 12 restaurants were featured at the site.
Use of social media has been important to the committee. "Social media is really playing a big part in our promotions," Ms. Fry-Trommald said. "Traffic to the website is tracked."