Nearly every year for the past 20 years, we've gone to the Herbal Affair in Sand Springs, Ok, just outside Tulsa. It's a great little community of about 20,000 and each year, they host one of the best herb festivals in America. Back when they began, I was still hosting Herb Day in May here at the farm. Five ladies came from Sand Springs, including Sandi Byerly and Ruth Leib, checking out how I ran my festival and looking for ideas. They saw a couple of things they wanted to use and said they hoped I didn't mind that they were starting a festival around the same time as mine. I didn't, and in fact, I believe that was my last year out of 7 years of hosting Herb Day in May. It was growing too fast, getting too big. Valet parking was always one of the services we provided, not because we were exclusive, but because there was so little room to park, and little level ground, that it was safer and easier to have volunteers park cars for what was back then, mostly a women's attended event.
The Sand Springs "city fathers," as the first group of organizers called them, let them have 1/3 of the town triangle for their "little festival." That first year they drew about 3,000 people and it got the city father's attention. The next year the Chamber of Commerce, the mayor, the Boy Scouts and several civic groups and churches got behind them and the festival has continued to grow ever since. I don't think we've missed but one year in the 20 and so it was a pleasure to be asked to speak this year at the 20th anniversary (on "Herbal Home Remedies That Work").
They annual have about 25,000 people for the event, always held the 3rd Saturday in April. This year, with drizzling rain and dark clouds, the attendance was down slightly, but the vendors all seemed to have great sales. I know our sales were only down a tiny bit over last year.
The Herbal Affair is unique because they hold tight to the overall theme of herbs. From the Peppermint Lane tent where you can drop off your kids and know they are safe and entertained with games, to the Basil Street Stage which has entertainment all day long. Bluegrass, jazz, country, children's ballet, jig dancing and sometimes Native American traditional dancing, all are held on that stage in the center of it all. And it's a great big family event, no longer just the garden club set. Master Gardeners, young couples who are starting their first garden, kids of all ages, everyone comes to the Herbal Affair.
Everything has to be herbal, the food, including a tent of Amish cooks with their chicken and noodles and (my favorite) homemade chicken salad sandwiches and pineapple coconut pie. The Boy Scouts sell root beer out of canoes filled with ice. Mr. Tomato Man sells nothing but heirloom tomatoes (actually it's his daughter now as he's deceased, but people still flock to the booth for their annual heirloom tomatoes, still $2 each). Homemade soaps, with our friend Gayl Bousman of Evening Shade Farm, games, dog sitting, plant sitting, garden antiques, garden art, everything relating to the garden can be found there. It's where I always buy a lot of my herbs for the garden, it's where I've found the garden sculptures we have in the lavender bed and it's like an annual homecoming, seeing friends and customers we only see once a year. It's a great place for buying interesting new plants for everyone.
The festival covers not only the downtown city triangle, but goes for several blocks to the north and east. They offer free trolley service from the parking lots and to my knowledge, don't charge a fee for entry. Their money comes from booth fees, which are reasonable, table rentals and tax revenus (sales tax in Sand Springs is 9.4%). All of the money goes toward the youth organizations and youth projects for the city. It's also a big day for dogs as half the people seem to bring theirs. Some in baby carriages, some tucked into their coats, others on leashes, but it's a dog's day out, too.
The red buds are still in bloom here! That's a full month of blooming. I don't ever remember red buds in bloom this long. We've enjoyed the blooms in salads and now the little "pea pods" will be coming where the blossoms were and we'll have those steamed a time or two before they get too tough. They taste a lot like sugar snap peas, just not as sweet. But think of it, FREE FOOD just growing on trees!
We're still having morels, too, in fact, we've eaten them the past 2 nights with our visitors. Paul and Erinna Chen, Josh's niece and husband, and their daughters Pikea, 4, and Vega, 8, are here visiting their Grandmother Barbara, from Rochester, NY. Paul has been great working in the garden, spreading gravel in the pathways and around the Herb Shop porch. He cut the old red bud down, along with trimming another one and cutting down the nearly dead crab apple tree. He likes outdoor work and they have a garden back home. The children have enjoyed gathering eggs, watching the new goat kids bounce off of things and just generally enjoying the farm.
I'm waiting for the ground to dry a bit more so I can get the asparagus bed finished, and the asparagus planted. It's heeled in, in another bed temporarily. With a little rock work and some mortar in the joints, it will be a working raised bed again.
I'm off to Otis, Indiana, near Michigan City, to speak at the LaPorte Master Gardeners conference this coming weekend. It will be interesting to go north, up near the Great Lakes, where spring hasn't quite awakened yet. Maybe that's why we're hearing loons here in the mornings. I often hear their call when I'm in the hot tub. The loons have moved south, to get at spring a few weeks earlier. I'm betting that morels, red buds, dogwoods and other spring plants aren't in season yet up north. It will be interesting to see and reminds me of a fantasy I've had over the years, of starting as far south as morel mushrooms grow, and following spring northward with the morel season. Wouldn't that be fun?