Bite-sized Apple Fair being planned for summer

By Zoë Strickland, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, March 22, 2021

walker apples

Walker Apples selling apples at the 2019 Gravenstein Apple fair. (Photo Rollie Atkinson)

Since 1973, Farm Trails has been putting on its annual Gravenstein Apple Fair — until COVID-19 hit, that is, and the 2020 fair was canceled. Now, Farm Trails is planning to put on a one-day, “bite-sized” event on Aug. 14.

“I’m excited about it because people really appreciated the drive-thru option and just the tiny little bit of connection, and they also appreciated that they could pop their trunks and have zero contact and get their products,” said Carmen Snyder, executive director of Farm Trails. “But I know how eager people are to be outside and to connect and to be back in the park, which is so magical. The concept is a little bit to be determined, because it depends on what the county and state guidance will allow.”

The event is currently planned to have two different options for potential event goers — one where you can park and walk up to shop for apples, apple products and fair food and another where people can purchase an advanced ticket for a socially distanced, time-limited, reserved seating experiences in a fence-in portion of Ragle Park where they can purchase food, libations, apple products and crafts for up to 90 minutes.

While plans are still being worked out, Farm Trails will be adhering to all of the pandemic protocols during the August event.

Farm Trails recently made the decision to not move forward with trying to put on the traditional Gravenstein Apple Fair in 2021 and instead hold the smaller event, due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Snyder presented to the Sebastopol City Council at its meeting last week in hopes that the council would agree to sponsor the fair, which it hasn’t sponsored in the past. The council voted 3-2 in favor of sponsoring the fair, with Mayor Una Glass, Vice Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney and Councilmember Neysa Hinton voting in favor and councilmembers Patrick Slayter and Diana Rich voting against the sponsorship.

Having to cancel last year’s Gravenstein Apple Fair threw a wrench in the books of the organization, which relies on the fair to aid in its funding.

“We had established enough financial stability and security that we didn’t have to blow it out of the park every year with the Apple Fair, but it just never occurred to us that there would not be an Apple Fair because until this year, we weren’t in fire season and so when we were not able to produce the Apple Fair this year (in 2020) Farm Trails took a huge hit financially,” explained Snyder during the March 16 Sebastopol Council Meeting.

According to documents for the Sebastopol City Council meeting, Farm Trails’ net income in the third quarter of 2020 was negative $11,000 whereas it was $98,000 in 2019.

After the pandemic shut everything down, Farm Trails cut its staffing in half and cut all possible costs that they could, going into “hone everything down to our core mission” mode, Snyder said.

Financial woes brought on by COVID-19 coupled with funding from transient occupancy tax funds no longer being distributed and grants from advertising reimbursements no longer being awarded (except through discretionary funds from each county supervisor) means that the nonprofit has less than a year to bring in a sizable amount of funding.

“Basically, Farm Trails is going to be out of money in December of 2021 … without some massive fundraising efforts on top of netting at least $30,000 at the bite-size Apple Fair,” Snyder said when asked by Councilmember Diana Rich about where the nonprofit stands.

When asked about how sponsorships for this year look thus far, Snyder said that Manzana North Coast has already come on board for the year at the same sponsorship level that it usually has and that the Sonoma County Farm Bureau has committed as a sponsor at half of what they usually do. Overall though, Snyder said that they’ve been seeing most of their sponsorships go down.

“I would just love to keep the apple industry going in some kind of showy way in whatever is safe during COVID … instead of having the whole history go quiet for too long a time,” said Vice Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney, the sponsoring council member for the agenda item. “I would love to breathe some life into it with dollars if we can get this on the ground at Ragle Park, because I think it’s really important for us to have the history, the heritage, to acknowledge it and to have some kind of fun in our future in case we can go outside and have fun.”

In place of the 2020 Apple Fair, Farm Trails held a “Grav & Go” event, where people could order apples online and pick them up. While the event was successful, with over 8,000 pounds of apples being sold, it wasn’t a successful method of fundraising.

This year, Snyder is anticipating the drive-thru portion of the event to bring in 1,000 vehicles or more based on last year’s event selling out of time slots. For the ticketed option, she said that she’s looking at it on a level comparable to Christmas tree farms or pumpkin patches, with the capacity of a minimum of 200 people per seating time slot.

“We still want to give some of the people the flavor of the apple fair in a way where they feel safe and comfortable,” Snyder said.

To sponsor or not to sponsor

When it came time for the city council to deliberate about the possible sponsorship, the majority of council members were initially against sponsorship because of where the request is hitting during the budget process. Council members also expressed a desire to have a council protocol set up for when people request sponsorships that don’t fall in line with the city’s budgeting process.

At the beginning of the deliberation discussion, Slayter and Hinton both suggested that Farm Trails instead apply for a community development grant for the 2021-22 fiscal year, since the council is starting next year’s budget process. Rich said that she didn’t think making a decision about sponsorship at this time is appropriate, since multiple other organizations are also in dire need of funding help from the city.

“I can’t think of anything more we would want to support. If there was some mini Apple Blossom Festival, I think we would have the same emotion that I’m saying for you now — we need to be Sebastopol and we need to do this,” Gurney said, encouraging the council members to reconsider their vote.

Gurney proposed a motion to sponsor the event at $3,000 and provide traffic support from the Sebastopol Police Department on the day of the event. The motion gained a second from Glass, but failed to get more than two votes.

“I’m just not comfortable with these kinds of one-off requests,” Slayter said, reiterating that the council needs to discuss how to deal with off-calendar sponsorship requests.

Gurney amended the motion, making it to instead sponsor the event at $2,000 with the police support. The motion then gained a bit more traction, receiving votes from Gurney, Glass and Hinton.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com