LOS BANOS -- This city in southwestern Merced County will be home to a celebration of a popular red fruit this weekend.
The Tomato Festival brings chefs, music, contests and much more entertainment to the Los Banos Fairgrounds, 403 F St., on Saturday and Sunday.
Molly Cassidy, a Kagome employee and Los Banos Chamber of Commerce Tomato Festival chairwoman, said advertising for the destination festival has stretched from Fresno to San Jose. She said the goal is to reach 15,000 visitors, more than three times what visited last year, over the event's two-day run.
"We have already twice as many vendors as last year," Cassidy said, adding that fresh produce and tractor pulls are notable additions. "It's definitely significantly larger than last year."
Recipes and demonstrations from celebrity chef Ryan Scott, as well as chefs Charlie Baggs and Claudia Pruett, will give scores of onlookers new ways to enjoy the fruit. Demonstrations include everything from tomato basil and ratatouille to smokey tomato bacon and focaccia pizza.
Cassidy said the tomato could one day be to Los Banos what garlic is to Gilroy, "but we're taking it one year at a time."
Concerts from the country and rock fusion band Second Wind, country and Western singer-songwriter Terry Brown, Latin groups Elemento 3 and Realidades de Tierra Caliente, classic rockers Johnny Rocket & the Thrust and country performer Maggie Watkins and Scott Patrick Little will add even more flavor to both days.
Tomatoes are big business on the West Side, but most of the product goes to producers. Cassidy said she would like the festival to educate the public on how important the fruit is to local business and employees.
Organizers plan competitions for pasta sauce, salsa, Bloody Marys and barbecue. Festivalgoers can participate in judging the salsa and barbecue contests.
More than 200 vendors will sell fresh produce at the farmers market, fried green tomatoes, hot dogs, shaved ice, kettle corn, pizza and cigars, among other items. A number of children's music, performers and other entertainment will pepper both days.
Pacheco High School's FFA plans a truck and tractor pull, which will double as a club fund-raiser, on Saturday.
The festival runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5. Admission is free for children age 10 or younger.
On the Net: www.lbtomatofestival.com.