The Salinas Valley Fair just celebrated its 70th year in 2014. This would mean that it first began circa 1944, at a time when Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath were already American classics.
Both of these famous works were written by the Salinas Valley's own native son, literary giant John Steinbeck. Steinbeck, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, spent his formative years in and around Salinas.
While fraternizing with the region's ranch hands and migrant workers, Steinbeck absorbed the local flavor quite literally from the ground up. These earthy roots served as a metaphorical basis for many of his fictionalized themes. The Salinas Valley, itself a study in contrasts, served as the perfect vehicle for Steinbeck's complex characterizations.
Steinbeck characterized himself, as well, in a uniquely complicated fashion. Drawing upon the agricultural heritage of the Salinas Valley, he often utilized a personal "Pigasus" stamp when signing autographs or correspondence. Sometimes he would even sketch this symbol in lieu of using the stamp.
"Pigasus," as the name implies, is a mythical flying pig. Steinbeck's Pigasus stamp also included the Latin motto "Ad astra per alas porci" (translation: "to the stars on the wings of a pig"). Wikipedia explains that "the pigasus was supposed to symbolize Steinbeck as ‘earthbound but aspiring... a lumbering soul but trying to fly... (with) ...not enough wingspread but plenty of intention.'"
Heritage Hog, on the other hand, had plenty of girth to spare. So much so that this hefty pig, raised by youngster Morgan Scettrini, was auctioned off at this year's fair for $60,000. The proceeds from this sale went to the Salinas Valley Fair Heritage Foundation. Interim Salinas Valley Fair CEO Kelley Ferreira had nothing but praise for the Heritage Foundation.
He enthusiastically explained, "These folks have gotten a lot of work done on the grounds, and in the buildings and such. The Heritage Pig money goes back to improvements on the fairgrounds – major capital improvements. Things around here are run like a very well-oiled machine."
The fair's website explains that the Heritage Foundation "was formed in 2001 by a group of men and women from up and down the Salinas Valley who are dedicated to supporting and improving the Salinas Valley Fair in King City... By March 27, 2002, the Heritage Foundation became a 501(c)3 and had more than 140 members... Now its membership stands at more than 200 members."
Ferreira added, "They have a lot of volunteers here at this fair, including a 15-member all-volunteer board. There's also an excellent office and maintenance staff." It's no wonder, then, that proceeds from the junior livestock-auction alone totaled 1.7 million dollars.
America's Salad Bowl
Although livestock abounds within this region, the Salinas Valley has also long been known as "America's Salad Bowl." The Valley's climate makes for a long growing season, helping to produce a multitude of crops such as lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, and – of course – grapes. This agricultural heritage is reflected in such 2014 Fair events as the Grand Wine Tasting.
Ferreira explained, "We have a great display of agricultural produce. Plus, local high-school students participated in this year's auction with their ag-mechanics projects, which included precision-built barbecue pits and other finely-crafted metallic items."
Food vendors added to the panoply of edibles. Ferreira noted that there were corn dogs, hot dogs, Mexican foods, egg rolls on a stick, hamburgers, pizza, deep-fried veggies and fish, roasted corn, baked potatoes, and a lot more. He stated, "The cinnamon rolls are always big favorites."
Five Fun Days
This year's fair ran from May 15th through the 18th, with an additional Super Fiesta Day on Sunday the 19th. Ferreira reported that Butler Amusements provided the midway. He stated,
"We had two separate areas – a kiddie area and the major carnival. I didn't hear any complaints, so that means they pretty much had everything covered. There were ten spectacular rides, four major rides, and seven kiddie rides. Folks really liked the Scrambler and the Cycle Jump."
Ferreira continued, "We also had a lot of ground acts – Pickles the Clown and the Rawhide Ranch Express Trackless Train were some of the favorites. Cartoon characters strolled around, and the juggling went really well. Then there was the Vendetta Pro Wrestling, the Thunder in the Valley Bull Riding, plus the Flat Track and Motorcycle Racing – all of which were quite popular."
"A Walk on the Wild Side, an exotic-animal refuge from Oregon, had an excellent display with lions and kangaroos. Wildlife of the World was a separate display, particularly dedicated to preserving endangered species. Ever hear of a kinkajou? People who attended this exhibit have!"
There were many quality stage acts, to boot. These included The Lost Trailers, Banda La Batayosa, Wild Turkeys Band and Ballet Folklorico Flores. The Money Band also drew a really good crowd. 4-H and the FFA Horse Show were featured in the Stampede Arena on opening day.
According to Ferreira, the fair's overall budget "was about 1.4 million." The three largest marketing avenues were TV, radio and newsprint. Facebook was also utilized. Ferreira added, "Admission costs remained the same as last year." The website lists the following prices: "Adults - $8, Seniors 60 & over - $6, Youth 6 to 17 - $6, Children 5 & under – FREE." Special promotions included Kids Day, Seniors Day and Armed Forces Day.
The Salinas Valley Fair is decidedly a community venture. Ferreira emphasized that the locals take "a huge interest in the fair. There is a terrific volunteer force down here, and they all make it happen. That is the very best part about being here – coming together with all these great folks."
The Valley has certainly come a long way since the rough-and-tumble days of Steinbeck's youth. Chances are that his "current" novels would include quite a few upbeat stories.
Perhaps he would be strolling through the Salinas Valley Fair. And perhaps even Pigasus would have learned to fly by now...