August 26, 2023
Food at the fairgrounds has a reputation for providing quick energy and guilty pleasure, but an upcoming event will offer a different kind of deliciousness. Rather than the Ventura County Fair’s deep fried Snickers bars and cream-filled funnel cakes, or the X Games’ Monster Energy drinks and Jarritos fruit-flavored soda, the National Heirloom Exposition’s 10th annual gathering will offer food such as cherimoyas and drinks such as kombucha.
“It’s healthy stuff,” said Michelle Johnson, spokesperson for the three-day event, which starts Sept. 12 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. “You know where it comes from … and when you eat it, you feel good.”
Cherimoya is a fruit native to Ecuador and Peru, similar in taste to a pineapple. It is one of 700 species of fruit grown by Murray Family Farms near Bakersfield. Steven Murray, who sells fruit at two locations in Bakersfield and at many farmers markets, including in Thousand Oaks and Ojai, will sell several varieties of fruit at the event. A grower recognized worldwide for his skill and knowledge, he will attend the Heirloom Exposition soon after presenting at the World Fig Expo in China and a similar event in Egypt.
Kombucha is an effervescent drink made by fermenting sweet tea with a culture of yeast and probiotic bacteria. Fermented drinks are a specialty of Michelle Lopez, owner of Wild at Heart Ojai and founder of the Ojai Food Co-op. She will be a featured speaker with her presentation “Preservation through Fermentation” at 3 p.m. on September 13. She sells fermented foods and drinks through her website, wildatheartojai.com, and at Farmers Markets, including those in Ojai and Ventura.
Her best-selling product is beet kvass, a fermented delicacy popular in Central Europe since the 1500s. She touts it as a “blood and liver cleansing probiotic.” Sourcing the beets and ginger from five local organic farms, she ferments at a commercial kitchen in Ventura and claims she is the only licensed fermenter in Ventura or Santa Barbara counties who is legally permitted to sell to the public at a farmers market.
She touts fermentation not only for “nutrient-dense, probiotic properties promoting gut health,” but also for environmental benefits. “I started out working on an organic farm in Ojai and saw how much organic farmers have to throw away,” she said. “They produce a lot of food that is ugly, irregular and not able to sell.” She bought these items at a reduced cost, took advantage of local microbes and created high-value fermented foods.
At 2:30 p.m. on September 14, I will also speak at the event about ways to avoid food waste. My presentation, “Food Recovery and Organic Recycling,” will focus on how California cities and counties are cutting food waste to save resources, feed hungry people and comply with mandates.
A stage for local presentations at the event is coordinated by Jan Dietrick and Ron Whitehurst, owners of Rincon-Vitova Insectaries. In addition to presenting, they will staff a booth in the Expo Hall, which for many is the highlight of the event, displaying hundreds of heirloom varieties of fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs. Their booth will feature fly maggots. “You can hold the maggots and let them tickle your fingers. That’s partly about helping people break boundaries,” explained Dietrick. The insectary grows these delightful creatures to feed to wasps, which they sell to control houseflies.
In 2019, the event was held in Sonoma County, attracting approximately 15,000 people over three days. The event was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and this is the first year of its resumption.
Johnson said, “It’s an old-time county fair, it’s the best farmers market you have ever been to and it’s a three-day symposium with some of the brightest minds in gardening and farming.”
The exposition runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sept. 12-14 at the fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. Tickets are $15; a three-day pass is $30. Visitors 17 and younger get in free. More information is available at theheirloomexpo.com.
David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.