Thanks a Bunch
Stockton Asparagus Festival Director Kate Post has been heading up the festival full-steam ahead for ten years with no sign of slowing anytime soon.
by JAMIE MENAKER
Anyone living in this area knows that the Stockton Asparagus Festival is the biggest event of the year for San Joaquin, bringing in over 100,000 festival-goers and taking over the entire waterfront district in downtown Stockton. The festival has been mentioned on Jeopardy, in Sunset magazine, and on Good Morning America, in a cooking demonstration with Wolfgang Puck and Diane Sawyer. Have you ever stopped to think what goes into a festival like this? Executive Director Kate Post has been thinking about this question for all of the festival’s twenty-four years, first with the co-founders and then as the woman in charge. This year’s Stockton Asparagus Festival marks ten years with Post at the helm of California’s largest charitable festival—and she’s just as giddy for the next ten years to come.She remembers sitting around with co-founders Gordon Medlin and Joe Travale, bouncing ideas off each other. “We were sitting around talking about vegetables, given that our area is so driven by agriculture,” says Post. “Tomatoes? No, not enticing enough. Someone said, ‘What about asparagus?’ and we all looked around the room like, we’ve really got something here.”
As part of special event company Gamut Promotions and Advertising, Post had been hired to work with the co-founders to create a festival similar to the Gilroy Garlic Festival, one that would bring visitors in to the area and also earn funds for local charities and organizations. With asparagus, Post and the team had found their inspiration—even today, asparagus is still a delicacy all around the world, and the festival’s food is the number one reason people attend.
What festival-goers may not know is that the event is made possible by the community, and directly benefits the community. Organizations and charities work the festival and earn an hourly wage. The first festival gave $5 an hour to volunteers; today volunteers earn close to $15 an hour for their organizations, with over $4.5 million given to over one hundred local charities to date.
“One of the reasons other cities have such a hard time emulating the festival is because we have volunteer spear-it,” says Post. “From the moment we hit the ground, we have such a great group of people with a can-do attitude. Many of the organizations have been involved for over twenty years, and take pride in their ‘spot’ at the festival and what they do.”
In Post’s ten years as Executive Director, she has seen more than just the sum of the festival’s charitable contribution grow. The event has moved locations from Stockton’s Oak Grove Regional Park in favor of utilizing the entire renovated downtown waterfront district, with over 40,000 pounds of asparagus consumed over three days, up from the festival’s original 1,000 pounds.
“The thing that has changed the festival so much is the sophistication of being at a downtown property. What city wouldn’t want to have a festival downtown, right on the waterfront?” says Post. “It’s not just a lake, it’s a major thoroughfare. We’ve added banners this year like those hanging at the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) in New York City. I am always taking things back here from my travels to see how I can make the festival more city-fied.”
Post is also determined to keep the festival fresh every year, both for herself and for the community. The Asparagus Festival team redesigns the advertising campaign for the festival each year, and then they start digging into the venues, always trying to add something new and fun. This year, Post’s new additions include the Sea Lion Encounter, which she found at the California State Fair; a decorated boat parade hosted by the Stockton Yacht Club; Stockton Fleet Feet’s Tony Vice running a forty-five hour Ultra Run for charity; and still rather new are the Delta River Cruises through the San Joaquin Delta, which Post originally saw on a travel show on TV.
“You have to keep your radar up all the time for new things and new ideas,” says Post. “My radar is always up for what’s good for the festival, not what’s good for who’s calling me on the phone with an opportunity.”
The challenge now, says Post, is that the festival needs more room to expand. With about 110,000 visitors to the event last year over three days, the festival team is starting to entertain the possibility of expanding the festival’s footprint (the area that the festival covers in downtown Stockton), and possibly adding events at additional satellite locations in Stockton.
“This job never stops,” says Post. “We plan for the next year’s event during the current event. Every time I hear something during the event, ‘Next year this, next year that,’ I write it on my board in our office that we keep in the Civic Auditorium for the week of the festival. I also have the community e-mail me what went wrong and what went right. That’s how we get feedback.”
Here’s our feedback: We love the Stockton Asparagus Festival, and we can’t wait for many more to come.
If you go: Stockton Asparagus Festival, Downtown Stockton, April 24-26, www.asparagusfest.com