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How Do You Like Them Apples at the Apple Fair?

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How Do You Like Them Apples at the Apple Fair?

It’s not your typical fair. After all, there are no rides, no midway, no ugly dog contest, and no demolition derbies. There are, however, apples. A whole lot of apples.

Now in its 43rd year, the Gravenstein Apple Fair is more popular—and, to be honest, quirkier—than ever. When it opens for its two-day run starting August 13, “the sweetest little fair in Sonoma County,” as the fair is known, will have attracted thousands to its eclectic offerings that include local crafts, art, animals, and vintage farm machinery, live music, and a dizzying array of locally-sourced foods and beverages, much of it featuring the iconic Gravenstein Apple. 

“The Gravenstein Apple Fair not only celebrates the heirloom apple itself, but is a perfect reflection of the culture and community of our region. We’re excited to showcase our incredibly talented local chefs, farmers, producers, artists, crafters, and musicians,” said Carmen Snyder, the fair manager and executive director of Sonoma County Farm Trails. 

At the center of that tradition is the resurgent Gravenstein apple, once a mainstay of Sonoma County’s agricultural economy but more recently eclipsed by the vaunted wine grape and threatened by competing apple varieties that are easier to grow, pack, ship, and market. Though the Gravenstein is uncommonly tart, juicy, and finely grained—making it an exceptional cooking apple—in its raw form it doesn’t keep or travel particularly well. The fruit tends to ripen quickly and all at once, allowing growers a relatively narrow window for bringing it to market.  It’s also a fussy apple, growing only in a few select zones in the world, with Sebastopol being the largest US source. 

The Gravenstein Apple Fair shares many of the qualities of its namesake fruit. It’s available for just a short spell in summer; it captures the full flavor of Sonoma County; and, boy, is it ever sweet. Whether it’s handmade quilts and jewelry on display and available for purchase, or the “life on the farm” experiences that include cow milking, sheep shearing, and beekeeping, the crafts, cooking, and DIY demonstrations, nonstop entertainment and hands-on activities for kids, or the continuous and varied music performances on two different stages, the fair is unusual in its ability to appeal to the widest possible range of ages, interests, and tastes. And speaking of “tastes,” this year’s fair has even more opportunities to enjoy local foods, wines, ciders and beers, including a new “Artisan Tasting Lounge” experience available for an additional fee for those who want to sip, savor and more deeply explore the region’s bounty in a shady outdoor oasis.

Tracing its roots to 1910, when a tent on Main Street was home to the first Sebastopol Apple Show, the fair has grown significantly ever since. Today it is hosted by Sonoma County Farm Trails, the non-profit organization that promotes local agriculture and works to preserve the region’s agricultural heritage. Though the Gravenstein apple is still the focus of the annual event, the fair has expanded into a wider celebration of all things agricultural, homemade, local, sustainable, and delicious. 

This year’s fair is August 13 and 14, from 10 AM to 6 PM, at Ragle Ranch Park in Sebastopol. Tickets are $15 for adults (13 and over), $10 for kids (6-12) and free for children 5 and under. Discounts are available for seniors, veterans, folks who ride their bikes to the fair, and if purchased in advance at Oliver’s Stores, Copperfield’s Books and Harmony Farm Supply and Nursery. New this year:  Discounted advance tickets are available online at www.applefair16.eventbrite.com. Onsite parking is $5 (Sonoma County Regional Park passes are accepted). Offsite free parking with continuous free shuttle service is available at the Holy Ghost Hall and O’Reilly Media. Visit www.gravensteinapplefair.com for more information.