Not one but two contenders for the fastest caramel apple eater at the Gravenstein Apple Fair on Saturday lost a tooth in their bid to take home the top prize.
Alas, only one person could be named champ, and 10-year-old Amitiel Ashley-Haran emerged bloody — and a little lighter in the tooth — but victorious.
"It had been loose for a while, and I knew it was going to come out soon," he said, clutching his blue first-place ribbon.
"I was really excited when they said I was the winner," he said. "I've been in it three years and I've never won."
This weekend's celebration of all things Gravenstein apple marks the 40th anniversary of the fair and a marked change from last year's much-maligned push to make the event bigger.
Gone are the jumpy houses and the sprawling acreage of vendors. Back are the tents under the oak trees at Ragle Ranch Park and the opportunity to see aging farm equipment and sample all things apple: fritters, pie, cider, sauce and juice.
"It's been just great," said Cindy Kozlowski-Hayworth, president of Kozlowski Farms, one of the few remaining growers of Gravensteins, along with Lee Walker, Dutton Ranch, and Kendra and Paul Kolling of Nana Mae's Organics. "It's been brought back to how it started."
But after a number of years of disappointing returns, the event is not yet in the black.
The two-day fair is the main fundraiser for the nonprofit group Sonoma County Farm Trails, which promotes small farms and features about 150 members. Former executive director Bruce Shimizu stepped down in August after the new, larger fair format failed to generate wanted revenues and, in fact, lost money.
New Farm Trails executive director and fair manager Carmen Snyder said the group hopes to make $50,000 in profits this weekend, noting that still will not covering existing debt.
The strategy for this year's fair was to shrink the event's footprint and highlight the apple, she said. Organizers also took greater care this year to create entry and exit gates so tickets would actually be purchased.
"We really heard the public complain and the vendors complain, and it didn't feel right," Snyder said of last year's fair.
Organizers, who hoped to draw 15,000 visitors over two days, said the smaller event has struggled since the Sonoma County Fair expanded to three weekends in 2011. The much larger event in Santa Rosa now runs the same weekend that the Gravenstein Apple Fair has been held for four decades.
"That's been part of the struggle," Snyder said. "Then again, we are a country fair, not a county fair."
Vendors and visitors had high praise Saturday for the feel of this year's fair.
The change has been remarkable, said Steve Dutton of Dutton Ranch, where 200 acres of Gravensteins are grown.
"It's a huge change," he said. "It's all good."
Liz Linde has been coming to the fair with her family for 11 years. She was a tad glum when both her son and her husband lost out on top prizes for their prodigious apple-juggling skills, but she said the fair never disappointed.
"It has stayed true to its roots," she said. "I like that it's hokey and the same. It's sweet."
You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 526-8671, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @benefield.