Homegrown fun ripe for picking

Yuma hosts Lettuce Days March 10 & 11

YUMA, ARIZONA -  Sure, Yuma Lettuce Days is all about the green stuff.  But salad is just the first course at this "agri-culinary festival" that'll give you a taste of the diverse bounty produced in this fertile river delta - and the delicious dishes that can be created from all that local product.

This year's headliner is Brian Malarkey of San Diego's Searsucker and Burlap restaurants and "Top Chef 3 Miami" competition, who'll give live demonstrations in an outdoor kitchen showcase, along with an all-star lineup of local talent.

Also on tap, a New Belgium beer garden, lots of Kids' AG-tivities, cooking contests, a farmers' market, fancy vegetable and ice carving, plus a tasting event with an array of specialties from local restaurants, along with wine and beer.
 
The homegrown celebration kicks off at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park on the Yuma riverfront March 10 and 11 with the green theme "from our fields to your table." Hours have been expanded to run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, and the $5 admission price is good for the whole weekend.  Get the full schedule at www.yumalettucedays.com
 
"People want to eat real food and they want to know where their food is coming from - that's really what Yuma Lettuce Days is all about," said Kristan Sheppeard, who is helping to organize the festival for the Yuma Visitors Bureau. "We're showcasing the fresh, safe and healthy produce Yuma delivers to all of North America with product displays and samples, an interactive 'Toss It Up' salad bar arena and a farmers' market."
 
JV Farms is sponsoring the live demonstrations by Malarkey, who gained a nationwide following for his high energy and captivating charm as a contestant on "Top Chef 3 - Miami." Not just a TV personality who cooks, Malarkey is a professionally trained, award-winning chef who grew up in a family of talented cooks, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Portland and trained with French chef Michael Richard in Los Angeles. In addition to running his popular San Diego restaurants, Searsucker and Burlap, Marlarkey is working on two cookbooks and three television shows and blogs on BRAVOTV.com and SanDiegoMagazine.com.
 
Back by popular demand after impressing the crowds at Lettuce Days in 2011 is Chef Ray Duey, world renowned for the fanciful fruit and vegetable sculptures that earned him gold medal honors in a 2008 Food Network challenge.
 
For local flavor, there will be demonstrations by the professionals behind the stoves at some of Yuma's favorite restaurants, while wannabe amateur chefs can "bring it" to the stage in six different cooking contests, including salsa, tacos, dates and drinks - plus a kids' healthy living contest for young cooks and a family showdown open to dueling relatives with recipes in any category. Keeping their cool as the competition heats up will be ice-carving artists who quickly transform a giant block of solid water into a frozen masterpiece worthy of a gala banquet.
 
If you'd rather please your palate than merely feast your eyes, the Yuma's Recipe Box tasting event also returns from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday. For just $10 per person, tasters get a chance to sample specialties from a variety of local restaurants, along with wine and New Belgium brews.  The Recipe Box is a grazer's delight - and proceeds benefit the Yuma County Ag Producers Scholarship Fund and Western Growers School Gardens Project. Since tickets are limited to 750 happy eaters, you might want to buy them in advance ($10, or $15 with Lettuce Days admission) at the YVB Visitor Information Center (VIC), 201 N. 4th Avenue, 800-293-0071 or 928-783-0071.
 
Narrated bus tours of Yuma agriculture areas have been another Lettuce Days favorite - so much so that tickets for last year's tours sold out within minutes of going on sale. To feed the hunger for ag info, YVB has beefed up this year's tour schedule, with two buses running all day long for both days of the festival -- on the hour and half-hour from 9:30 -5:30 Saturday, and from 9:30-3:30 Sunday.  To be sure of a seat, you can also buy tour tickets in advance ($10 including Lettuce Days admission) at the VIC.
 
Lettuce Days still being a festival, there will also be entertainment, ag-related and assorted other vendors and plenty of "fun" food and drink available, too, including a beer garden featuring New Belgium's favorite Fat Tire and its new "Dig" brew.

Youngsters can enjoy a dedicated Dole's Kids' Ag-tivities and Toddler Town area, along with special entertainment. The new exhibit detailing the construction of the Yuma Siphon 100 years ago -- literally a watershed event in the development of Yuma agriculture -- also will be open during Lettuce Days hours.
 
You can meet and talk to area growers and shippers on the narrated bus tours and at the "Get your Ag Scoop" booth, sponsored by the Yuma Area Agriculture Council. In addition, there will be tractors and field equipment along with the chance to purchase fresh produce at the Yuma Food Bank's farmers market.
 
"We're planning to have something for everyone at this year's Lettuce Days," Sheppeard said.  "Come on out and lettuce entertain you!"

Ann Walker, 928-376-0100 (office), 928-210-9044 (cell), ann@visityuma.com
Visitor Information Center: 1-800-293-0071
www.visityuma.com

Yuma Visitors Bureau markets the Yuma area within the travel and tourism industry and to the general public. Direct travel spending in Yuma County totaled more than $566 million in 2010, supported nearly 5,800 jobs and generated $36.3 million in state and local tax revenues.

A longtime favorite with sun-seeking snowbirds, Yuma's population nearly doubles in the winter months, thanks to more than 23,000 spots in RV parks and resorts. The community also offers nearly 4,000 hotel rooms, conference and meeting facilities, and three casinos. For more details about Yuma's year-round attractions, special events - and the rarely "cloudy with a chance of tacos" forecast* - visit www.visityuma.com or call 800-293-0071.

 
* Yuma hotel guests will eat free every day the sun doesn't shine from Aug. 1, 2011 until July 31, 2012! For more information on our Centennial "free board" promotion, call us.



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Yuma Visitors Bureau markets the Yuma area within the travel and tourism industry and to the general public. The nonprofit is funded in part by City of Yuma hospitality tax revenues.

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