Harvest Fest draws huge crowds

Hood River Harvest Fest really pulled them in.

Weekend attendance was 21,700, a little over last year, according to Craig Schmidt, director of the sponsoring Hood River Chamber of Commerce.

"We had a great Friday, and Saturday was tremendous -- certainly the weather helped," Schmidt said.

In a first for the 19th annual festival was the Pear Pavilion, a large tent sponsored by Fruit Loop Group and the Northwest Pear Bureau, which markets pears throughout the region.

"We got a positive message about pears," said Kaye White, Fruit Loop marketing director. "A lot of people didn't understand you could cook with pears. We had florists coming up and looking at our floral arrangments, and asked to buy pears for flower shops. That's a new market with a lot of potential," White said.

White said the pavilion was "standing room only" Saturday, and volunteers scrambled to keep up with the demand for delectables such as cheesecake and fruit-and-pear plates.

Schmidt said the Harvest Fest served as part of a larger festivity throughout the county.

"We printed 15,000 brochures marketing the other 20 events throughout the valley, along the Fruit Loop as well as the Parkdale Autumn Fest and Gorge Fruit and Craft fair in Odell."

He said this year's festival had "the best quality and variety of crafts and produce yet, and credit for that goes to the jurors and volunteers who put it all together."

The first annual Pear packing competition was "a huge success," White said. Visitors gathered to watch local fruit packers compete for cash prizes. First place went to Pedro Crisandoa with a time of 1 minute 13 seconds, working in less than optimal conditions, as he flew through 100 pre-sorted anjou pears.

Paco Magama was second with a time of 1:15 and Elodia Lara was third with 1:25. A cash prize of $100 was awarded to Pedro for first place, $75 to Paco for second and $50 to Elodia for third.

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