The San Joaquin Asparagus Festival has turned over a new leaf. Though the festival is a decades-long tradition, the 30th iteration brought big changes including new owners and a new fairgrounds location. After years of being held in downtown Stockton, Calif., the festival faced cancellation due to declining attendance and increased costs. Noceti Group resurrected the festival this year, partnering with the fairgrounds to co-produce the event.
“It’s going almost too well,” said fairgrounds CEO Kelly Olds. With an approximately 12,000-15,000 attendees on Friday’s opening and around 35,000 on Saturday, the festival far exceeded the estimated 50,000 predicted attendance.
The festival took over all but one building on the grounds during its April 17-19 run. Midway of Fun provided the carnival and more than 175 local businesses and performers worked the grounds. Asparagus Alley housed favorites like fried asparagus and even asparagus ice cream. New offerings in Asparagus Alley included indoor seating with classic cars lining the hall.
“Before, people didn’t really have anywhere shaded to sit and relax,” said Olds. “Now, we have indoor seating for about 600 people and plenty of nice spaces on the grounds to take a break.”
In its 29-year history, non-profit organizations working at the festival have raised more than $5.9 million dollars. This year was no different with its focus on
volunteers, but the amount they were compensated was increased after some organizations complained that previous years weren’t lucrative. “This year, Tony Noceti guaranteed the organizations $4 for every volunteer hour,” said Olds. More than 100 nonprofit groups set up at the festival, bringing about 1,000 volunteers.
In the past, the festival’s biggest challenges included rising security costs. The fairgrounds has a great relationship with local law enforcement, which uses its grounds for training and recruiting on a regular basis. Each day the fairgrounds is used by law enforcement, the company receives a $1,000 credit toward security services. As such, San Joaquin County Fairgrounds was able to provide law enforcement, including 20 PD, two supervisors, a dozen cadets, and more, at no cost. Parking remains a concern, with all of the fairgrounds parking lots filled the fairgrounds opened the infield of its racetrack to accommodate more cars. In its contract, the fairgrounds receives a rental fee, as well as all parking and a share of the food and beverage.
Before the event, it was unclear whether the event would be an annual happening at the fairgrounds or a one-time attempt to keep the festival in Stockton. In fact, the new contract was just for a year, with five five-year options to continue. Based on the success, “I think we’ll be seeing the Asparagus Festival back here for many years,” said Olds.
The festival is helping to fill the gap that the annual fair has left behind, now on hiatus for its second year. “The amount of people here certainly shows that there’s a demand,” Olds said. “This is what I’ll use when I go to the board to talk about reinstating the fair.” For now, the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival represents the largest single event held on the grounds, which keeps busy with various rentals and interim events, clocking more than 100 event days in the first three months of the year.