Asparagus Festival: The Constructed Culture of Stockton, CA

These are my notes for the “Celebrating Asparagus” article.

My initial draw to picking this article for leadership discussion was two-fold: my own festival is a food festival so I thought it might relate, and the festival takes place in the Bay Area next month, so I might check it out myself. The paper also took a writing style similar to how  might construct my own festival analysis.

The paper’s tie to Thanksgiving at the beginning was crucial for forming a picture. America has a short history with many cultures from other lands. Since we had no history, we constructed it. The Thanksgiving tradition is built on a story as true as a fairy tale, yet the tradition remains in the present, more powerful than its historical origins.

The festival examples all take place in California, and I as a citizen have pride for my state, my county, and my town. Yet California’s American history is even more shallow than the eastern states. California was founded in 1850, made official in a now-famous adobe building in Monterey,  which was then one of California’s only towns – a pitstop for sailors.

My hometown,  Santa Rosa,  was lucky enough to be one of the earliest cities, dating back to the 1868. But the town directly north, Windsor, was established only in 1992. Rohnert Park, home to Sonoma State University, was a  planned city, constructed in the 1960s along with the highway system.

Though the article doesn’t touch on this fully, it’s no wonder these planned, constructed, and commercialized festivals blossomed in California towns that have no real history, Rohnert Park among them.

Here’s summarized bulletpoints I wrote as I was reading the article, which can serve as jump-off points for discussion.

  • The food festival has received far less attention than other festivals, although it has deep cultural significance itself.
  • The first food festival is thanksgiving. Though myth, it is a powerful message about forging social bonds through food.
  • Food festivals are a way for Americans to celebrate their cultures while being inclusionary and nonpolitical.
  • rationally constructed food festival – based around a foodstuff associated with a community or region. It is linked to no ethnic heritage
  • The Stockton Asparagus Festival – it’s in California. Celebrates the asparagus harvest. The three-day event went from 20k to 100k participants and 150k Spears of asparagus.
  • Chocolate dipped asparagus, asparagus tea, asparagus ice cream. Even an asparagus shaped cookbook.
  • Asparagus is marketed as a “high-class vegetable” or the cadillac of festivals. Do you buy that label?
  • Asparagus is not associated with ethnicity, making it a great choice in a diverse county. What does this say about festivals that are unable to achieve a diverse attendance (like the Dogwood festival, for example)?
  • The festival is highly organized and commercial.
  • Since asparagus is a ‘male’ vegetable, the coordinator consciously feminized it for cross-gender appeal.
  • People go to be “out of time”, similar to marti gras. The asparagus theme is fun and bizarre. You feel silly eating asparagus ice cream while wearing an asparagus hat.
  • It has a “non-community commercial gloss.” Many non-asparagus events revolve around the festival, although they have nothing to do with Stockton.
  • Therefore, we have the “rationally constructed” festival.
  • This type of festival has become wildly popular. We have the Garlic Festival in Gilroy. Even Rohnert Park is mentioned for the Crane Melon festival, used as a desparate attempt to put us on the map (but now we have a casino).
  • ((Note: Rohnert Park is our quintessential commercially constructed town. It has no history or character of its own, which is why this type of festival is so attractive for such places. It puts them on the map. It says “hey, I have character too, guys.”))
  • But is there anything authentic in it at all? Is there really a difference between Gilroy’s Garlic and Stockton’s asparagus?
  • Maybe. Though constructed, Stockton has a history and a sense of community it may not otherwise have.
  • As far as anyone knows, Stockton has always been the asparagus capital. We see traditions in the present, after all

2 thoughts on “Asparagus Festival: The Constructed Culture of Stockton, CA

  1. Your comments on your updates and in class are, as always, well thought out and well phrased. Great work! You are observant and intentional in your work!

    1. Thank you, Alexa. That means a lot. 🙂 I like that you used the word ‘intentional.’ It’s a perfect way to describe something that has focus and forethought, and I hope that I will have that in my project! Great work to you as well, Alexa. You always bring such great discussion to class.

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