Neighbors celebrate 'date' traditions at County Fair

POSTED: 07:22 PM PST Feb 17, 2013 
INDIO, Calif. -

Crowds of families and visitors flooded the Indio Fairgrounds on Sunday for the 67th Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival, celebrating the fruit that started it all and in all its forms.

"A date shake, you've got to have a date shake," said Dawn Bledsoe.

"They're a lot better than the bag of cookies we go for at night and we freeze them," said Sheila Ortega, of La Quinta.

They're timeless, tasty and fresh 365 days a year. Dates are our homegrown Valley treats that raise eyebrows and date way back. Festival marketing director Veronica Casper says the first date palm planted in the Coachella Valley was in the early 1900s.
"It's just part of our culture out here. We see it as a tradition and we want to continue to make sure they continue out here," she said.

There are more than 6,000 exhibits to see and taste at the fair 100 of them are dates.

"You can buy dates, see dates, there's a cooking show that features dates," said Casper.

Our Valley crop satisfies 95 percent of the nation's sweet tooth. The Riverside County Agriculture report shows dates raked in $41 million in 2011, which is a nice boost to the local economy.

Whether you sip them, blend them, or pick them straight from the tree, you're sure to find a date that will fill your cup of tea at the festival. This year, locally grown dates are making a new splash with date tea.

"It's very unique. We've figured out how to take the history of a date, the nutrition of a date and bottle it up in a juice and tea," said Larry Gilmore, the CEO of Peoples' Juice and Tea International.

Jesse Ortega, of La Quinta, "It's really interesting what they do with dates they do everything."

"It's something for our area to be proud of," said Bledsoe.

Fair hours are from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Don't miss the fair's Presidents' Day parade at 9 a.m. On Monday, beginning at the intersection of Miles Ave. and Deglet Noor St. and ending at the entrance of the fairgrounds. Local boxing champ Timothy Bradley will be the Grand Marshal.