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Annual festival provides farm, river fun
riverdance fest pic1
Los Banos resident Emily Atkins picks her own strawberries during Riverdance Farms Annual Pick and Gather Festival and Merced River Fair. - photo by ALYSSON AREDAS / The Journal

Organic farming was at the center of the Riverdance Farm’s Pick and Gather and Merced River Fair last weekend, which not only featured educational opportunities for visitors, but also hands-on activities and entertainment.

Over the course of two days, visitors were able to participate in a number of activities, including hay bale rides, fishing lessons and live music.

The arts and crafts made available at the farm were a favorite of seven year old Olivia Gutierrez, who was happy to report that she was able to make her own doll.

Additionally, like many of the other visitors at the festival, Gutierrez enjoyed picking her own fruit from the farm’s blueberry and strawberry fields and cherry orchards.

“My favorite was blueberries because I saw a big patch of blueberries,” said Gutierrez.

The annual festival also welcomed a number of new faces this year, including students from Merced College’s Landscape Horticulture Program.

“The festival is right here in the valley and it promotes organic growing, so it is right up our alley,” explained student Elaine Valladao.

Students hosted a plant sale during the two-day event, where all plants were grown in the Horticulture Program.

“We want to start introducing people to drought tolerant plants as more people are becoming aware of the severity of the drought,” said Valladao. “We can help anybody grow anything.

“All colored thumbs are welcome to our program, not just green thumbs,” laughed Valladao.

According to Valladao, all the money they raised from the festival will go back to the program to buy more plants and supplies.

Another new addition to this year’s festival was Bill Loyko from the Northern San Joaquin Master Food Preserver program through the University of California Cooperative Extension.   

“Food preservation helps us preserve surplus food so when we eat it later, we don’t get sick,” explained Loyko, who is a Master Food Preserver. “So today we are here providing general information on canning, drying, and freezing your food.”

Since the festival provided guests with an opportunity to pick their own cherries, blueberries and strawberries, Loyko provided preserving information and recipes that were specifically applicable to the day’s harvest for visitors.

Loyko revealed that his attendance at the fair not only benefitted new preservers who obtained a wealth of helpful information, but also those who are already knowledgeable in the craft.

“We’ve also heard a lot of interest from local preservers that want to establish a Master Food Preserver Program here in the Merced area, since the closest program is in Stockton,” said Loyko. “So we are also here to help those that are interested in getting a program.”