Come Saturday night thousands of people will make their way to the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds to fete the return of Fava Bean Day. It is a celebration that is truly unique to Turlock alone, because, well it doesn’t actually exist.
There are no calendars labeling May 9 as Fava Bean Day. No cards to wish someone special a Happy Fava Bean Day. There isn’t even a fava bean council proclaiming the benefits of a fava bean diet. But there is a man with a mischievous gleam in his eye and a joke that has been perpetuated for 22 years.
“It’s a joke that has grown into something bigger,” said Joe Fagundes, the founder of Fava Bean Day.
Back in 1993, Fagundes was sautéing up a batch of beans at his ranch shop and on a whim told his workers and a friend that May 9 was Fava Bean Day in Portugal. It was as Fagundes describes it “a big old lie.” He is a man that likes to pull a person’s leg and the fact that he had his friends and workers eating it up (literally) delighted him to his core.
The Fava Bean Day cook-out that first year was so well-enjoyed by those few attendees that the following year, as May 9 approached, a friend asked Fagundes if he would be cooking up another pot to celebrate the day.
“Now, when you tell a lie, you don’t remember it, so I asked him what he was talking about,” Fagundes said. “It was then that he knew he had fallen for another joke.”
It may have started as a joke, but for many people May 9 is now irrevocably Fava Bean Day. Not only is it a day for them to get together and enjoy heaping bowls of fava beans and linguica, it’s a day to help children in the community.
From the early days of when a hundred or so people would come to Fagundes’ Turlock ranch for a fava bean dinner, Fagundes saw the potential to turn his joke into a charitable force. Every year the celebration collects donations that are then given to two or three children in the community that have been diagnosed with cancer. Over the years the grassroots effort has collected well over $240,000 for local families. Last year the two children selected for the donations were given $12,000 apiece to help with expenses.
“They can use it for whatever expenses they might have, whether it is medical or to put gas in their car. We’re just giving them some help,” Fagundes said.
This year’s beneficiaries will be a 16-year-old girl and a 3-year-old girl.
“It’s sad that every year we find too many kids battling this disease,” Fagundes said.
The effort to put on Fava Bean Day is done solely through a growing number of volunteers, from the shellers to the cookers and everyone in between.
Stephanie Tellis enjoys her numerous volunteer commitments, but none as much as her work with Fava Bean Day. Tellis is one of the two hundred volunteers who work to put on the event, which draws in an estimated thousand people, and includes a live and silent auction and a dessert auction.
“It is the best thing I’ve done in my volunteer work,” Tellis said. “It’s a one of a kind event and it amazes me every year how the community comes together to help out these kids. Sometimes the kids and their families come, if they are well enough. We put them at a special table and treat them like royalty. It always seems to touch the parents that so many people they don’t know come out to help their child and that gets me every time.”
The Fava Bean Day celebration starts at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Building E-2. There is no cost for admission, though donations will gladly be accepted.
“I hope people come and join us,” said Fagundes. “They’ll be plenty to eat.”