Kim Bernardi has attended the Gravenstein Apple Fair for nearly as long as she’s lived in Sebastopol. While the food is a big draw, it isn’t the only thing that brings her and her family back every year.
They love its connection to the land and its history. She said it’s a “throwback” to earlier times, when apples still reigned over the picturesque hills of west Sonoma County.
“It’s a little slice of Sebastopol life,” said Bernardi, a mother of three who moved to the area eight years ago with her winemaker husband, Neil.
Now in its 44th year, the Gravenstein Apple Fair, held this weekend at Ragle Ranch Park, is expected to draw 15,000 attendees over two days. It’s not just residents from Sonoma County, Bernardi said. They’re coming from all over the Bay Area.
“The crowds have found out about our little sweet fair,” she said.
It’s an event that got sweeter this year with its theme, “In Praise of Pollinators,” which celebrates the honey bees that pollinate Gravenstein apples and much of the food supply. Bee experts offered presentations on backyard beekeeping, planting bee-friendly gardens and weaving traditional skep beehive baskets.
While families buzzed about the beehives on display, it was clear the sweet and tart Gravenstein apple still was queen bee at the fest. Crowds gathered around the apple cider tents, while long lines formed at the apple fritters and pie booths.
“It’s huge,” Barbara Walker said about the festival’s significance in promoting the Gravenstein apple, which her family has been growing for more than a century.
“We have many new transplants to this area who are unfamiliar,” she said. “This is an opportunity to give them a taste and educate them about the Gravenstein.”
She gave Petaluma resident Kin Davis tips on how to pick out the sweetest apples from the bunch: look for ones that don’t have waxy skin. Davis, 41, also learned the green Gravensteins are best for pies, while the red ones are best to eat fresh. “The red ones you have to eat right away,” she added.
It was the first time Davis, her husband and their two young daughters attended the event. They thought the festival would be a good way to wrap up the summer break, Davis said.
And it didn’t disappoint.
“It’s a small, great community event,” she said. The homemade apple pies, wood carvers and old farm equipment on display provide a “nostalgic feeling,” she added.
“It keeps you close to your roots,” said her husband, Santa Rosa native Mark Davis.
In the 1940s, apples took up nearly 15,000 acres in the county. Last year, that number had decreased to 2,200 acres — only about 700 of them dedicated to Gravenstein apples.
Walker said her family has been taking part in the fair since its inception. She credits the slow food movement, the festival and Farm Trails, which hosts the fair, for the survival of the Gravenstein apple, which saw a steady decline over the decades.
“We’ve seen a resurrection,” said Walker, who married into the apple-growing family more than 35 years ago. “Without their help, we could have lost the Gravenstein.”