The Walla Walla Onion Festival, held each summer, helps boost local sales and community excitement.
“This is the 29th annual festival this year, and we are figuring on around 5,000 or 10,000 people in attendance,” said Kathy Fry-Trommald, executive director of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee.
“It’s a celebration of the industry,” she said.
The festival, held on Main Street in downtown Walla Walla, Wash., draws adults and children alike, with fun and games, live music, and cooking demonstrations.
This year’s event, set for July 20-21, will begin with a fun run, followed by a country dance performance.
Cooking competitions will also be held on the first day, including a French onion soup contest, salsa contest, and the Salad “Slaw-ter” competition.
In the afternoon, Chef Antonio Campolio and Chef Grant from The Marc Restaurant will offer cooking demonstrations, according to the committee’s website.
On Sunday, Chef Mandi Konen and Chef Eric Johnson, also from The Marc Restaurant will offer a demonstration.
In addition, the local community college’s culinary department has a mobile kitchen they bring to the event, which allows guests to sample the dishes prepared there.
“Unless you have a sanitation station, like they do in the mobile kitchen, the health department says you can’t let people taste the food,” Fry-Trommald said.
“Letting folks sample is a big deal, and we’re proud that our community college can participate,” she said.
Activities for the younger crowd include “funion” games such as sweet onion bowling and Mr. and Mrs. Onion Head decorating in the kids zone, as well as onion eating contests for children and adults.
The committee tries to make sure the festival is constantly evolving.
“It’s so much more than it was 10 years ago, or even five years ago, Fry-Trommald said.
There’s been talk of highlighting the Italian influence on the area.
“It was the Italians who first brought the sweet onion to the valley in the late 1800s, so we’ve thought about using that connection to possibly partner with the area’s wine industry and include a grape stomp,” Fry-Trommald said.
The activity would include teams of three, and a bucket of grapes to be stomped with the feet, with the juice collecting in a jar.
Fry-Trommald says the event could help draw another of the area’s foodie communities — the wine industry.
“You just may see the grape stomp this year. There’s a good possibility we’re going to expand on the Italian connection,” she said.
The festival is advertised locally on radio and television, as well as in the newspapers, Fry-Trommald said.
Social media is also becoming an important part of the committee’s marketing efforts for the festival.
“We’re making an effort to use Facebook, and it seems to be paying off with the comments we get from folks,” Fry-Trommald said.