Hard work at core of Sweet Onion Festival

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Summer in the Walla Walla Valley means harvesting sweet onions. It also brings the annual Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival to downtown, July 20-21.

Kathy Fry-Trommald, executive director of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee, puts in a lot of time and energy helping to coordinate the festival. A number of enthusiastic volunteers assist with everything from planning to setup.

Planning for the festival is a monumental task, Fry-Trommald said. Ideas are discussed and they decide if and how things could be done.

“It takes months of planning and a good core group of people talking and planning, meeting once a month,” she said.

With a yearly event, it’s important to balance familiarity with ideas to keep the festival new and exciting. The timing of this year’s event is the same, the third weekend in July. Many of the vendors will be the same as in years past, and there will be the traditional Saturday Street Dance. Music will be provided by the Coyote Kings and Jimmy Lloyd Rea and the Switchmasters.

To keep the festival fresh and interesting, new events and activities are planned. Two new items are in the works this year, Fry-Trommald said.

In collaboration with some in the Italian community, many involved in the onion industry, a grape stomp will be held at noon on Sunday. This is a new event for the festival. The team that stomps out the most juice wins.

“We have sponsors and teams ready to go,” she said.

The Corvette Club Car Show is another feature that’s new to the festival this year.

The 2013 festival will be in the same downtown location as last year’s, on Main Street between Second and Fourth avenues. The car show will be along Third Avenue between Main and Alder streets.

Like last year there will be about 40 vendor booths.

“We get a good crowd with that many vendors,” Fry-Trommald said. “We have many return vendors, so that means they’re happy.”

There will be onion-eating contests at 1 p.m. on both days, one for kids and one for adults. “Whoever can eat the most in 30 seconds will receive a T-shirt,” she said. A Walla Walla Sweet Onion dessert competition will also be held.

The committee is working with the Downtown Farmers Market. Since the location is adjacent to the market site, the crowd can easily move from one family-friendly event to the other.

“We have a huge kids zone coupled with the Farmers’ Market kids activities. We want to have a fun impact on the kids,” Fry-Trommald said.

The marketing committee does more than just organize the Sweet Onion Festival.

“We are a quasi-government agency overseeing the production of onions,” she said. “Our mission is to get the name of Walla Walla Sweet Onions out there, let people know we exist. The festival assists in accomplishing that.”

The onion industry changes every year, Fry-Trommald said. For example, last year marked the end of the nearly century-old Walla Walla Gardeners’ Association.

“We also lose growers and handlers,” she said.

There may be some new growers producing onion crops. But overall the volume of onions produced is less than it has been.

“We are dealing with a lot smaller volume. Naturally our promotions and advertising are consistent with the volume produced. You produce less, you promote less.”

A labor-intensive industry, farming is crucial to an abundant, safe food supply.

“Our farmers are so important,” Fry-Trommald said.

Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com. SClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClBSClB SClBSClB

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