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Sunday, May 31, 2020

21st annual raspberry festival breaks records

By Nicole Martinson, Tanner Thompson and Emily Porter

Lynden’s 21st annual Northwest Raspberry Festival posted record-breaking numbers for teams in its basketball tournament and participants in its car show.

A record 227 teams competed on 16 courts in the streets of Lynden at the 20th edition of the Curt Maberry Memorial Classic 3-on-3 Tournament.

Another record of 298 classic cars were entered in this year’s car show.

An estimated 28,000–30,000 attendees were at the festival this year – on par with past years, said Tammy Yoder, marketing and events coordinator for the Lynden Chamber of Commerce.

The festival kicked off Friday, July 20, and continued through Sunday, July 22, with a variety of activities from a scavenger hunt, salmon barbecue and live music.

A spiderman look-a-like greets kids at the Northwest Raspberry Festival on July 21. // Photo by Emily Porter

Two main stages featured musicians and bands including Soul Shadows, the Bellingham Youth Jazz Band and an Elvis impersonator.

There were a variety of vendors including Two Girls One Bus, a business that sells upcycled, refurbished and renewed home decor for living spaces and gardens. They were easy to spot because they operate out of a renovated short, yellow school bus.

Patty Jewett, co-owner of Two Girls One Bus, said its their third year vending at the raspberry festival.

“I really love watching all the people walking downtown and having fun” Jewett said.

Put on by Lynden’s Chamber of Commerce and the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, the festival started as a way to market Whatcom County’s raspberry harvest and has grown into a community-centered event.

Gary Vis, executive director for the Lynden Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber operates “under the concept of building strong businesses by building a stronger community.”

Vis said Whatcom County is the top commercial raspberry-producing region in the world, and the Northwest Raspberry Festival is a time to highlight the fruit and other crops in the area.

“It’s marketing, but it’s marketing something that we all love and enjoy,” Vis said.

Named after the late Lynden raspberry farmer Curt Maberry, Vis said combining the Maberry Memorial Classic 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament with the Raspberry Festival seemed like the natural thing to do, since Lynden is known to be a basketball-fanatic town.

When Jerry Blankers, founder and organizer for the 3-on-3 basketball tournament, brought up the idea of naming the tournament after Maberry in 2007, Vis was happy to agree.

“Those are the kind of people in the community that you want to emulate,” Vis said.

Blankers said the tournament brings people to town to see kids and friends play and they stay for the raspberry festival.

Teams have to register and pay a fee to join the tournament. Participants receive a basketball, T-shirt, water bottle and backpack and the proceeds mainly pay for the tournament itself.

John Rose and Monica Rose sit in their 1939 Plymouth coupe to showcase it at the Razz and Shine Cruise-in Car Show. // Photo by Emily Porter

“The kids get into it, they love it,” Blankers said.

With the majority of the teams being childrens teams, he said it’s a good opportunity for them to be active outdoors and learn sportsmanship.

Starting Friday, July 20 at 10 a.m., the tourwnament continued until 9 p.m. Other activities on Friday included the kids scavenger hunt and the Kiwanis barbecue salmon dinner at 4:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday activities included the Kids’ Zone Games, Berry Fair Street Market, Berry Delicious Food Court, Razz “Beery” Garden, fresh local raspberries and vanilla ice cream sold by the chamber of commerce and music and entertainment performances.

Vis said any commercial entities who want to have booths at the festival are required to have a kids’ activity for free. He said the festival puts a heavy emphasis on youth education in this way.

Vis said any commercial entities who want to have booths at the festival were required to have a kids activity for free. He said the festival puts a heavy emphasis on youth education this way.

The variety of activities brings many groups to the events and creates a stronger community in Lynden, Vis said. Hundreds of volunteers and attendees from all over Washington and Canada helped build this festival community.

“A city is a geographical boundary but community is people who care about each other and want to help each other become better,” Vis said. “That’s what we want to do and that’s what we get to see here [with the raspberry festival].”

Berry growers are struggling this year 

Selling raspberries at the festival is important to local farms, especially this year.

“It’s been a tough year for them because some European countries dumped fruit onto the market just before the season,” Vis said.

This depressed the price for berries in Whatcom County, where 90 percent of the nation’s frozen raspberries are produced. Vis said some of the farmers will do fine, but nobody had a great year for berry sales.

In a July newsletter, the Washington Red Raspberry Commission said, “We don’t need to tell growers how tough raspberry markets are this year. A deluge of imported raspberries has weakened the market for our fruit and left some growers without a place to pack their raspberries.”

The commission aimed to promote raspberries during the festival and urged people to understand how beneficial the fruit is.

Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission said the community gives the commission a lot and they try to give back a little with the Raspberry Festival.

“This is by far the biggest raspberry region in North America,” Bierlink said. “[The commission’s goal is] to make sure everyone involved in growing raspberries in the states contributes a portion of their fruit towards advancing the industry.”

The commission puts money made at the festival toward the changing needs of the industry, whether it be research for new varieties of raspberries, promotion or aspects of fair trade. Bierlink said connecting the Washington Red Raspberry Commission with the Northwest Raspberry Festival helps bring awareness to the importance of the raspberry industry in Washington.

Small car makes big impression

Jeff Gibson poses next to his tiny car at the Northwest Raspberry Festival car show on July 21. // Photo by Emily Porter

Jeff Gibson drove down Hannegan Road in his baby-blue convertible, knees nearly touching his chin. He was on his way to the raspberry festival in what was once the smallest street-legal car in the United States.

Gibson commuted 10 miles to showcase his car in the Northwest Raspberry Festival car show. While driving, he pulled over to the shoulder to let traffic pass as he reached its top speed of 45 mph.

Arils Sluder, Spokane resident, worked on putting together the custom-made car for 17 years, starting in 1949, with 5,000 individual parts.

“[Sluder] was an eccentric guy,” Gibson said. “He was an inventor and decided to make a car.”

Gibson noticed the tiny car when he was 18 years old while he was diving behind Sluder on Broadway Avenue in Spokane.

Gibson said to himself, “Someday I am going to own this car.” His curious mind caused him to follow Sluder home, which led to a lifelong friendship.

The car finally became his after he bought it from Sluder’s wife, Beth, after Sluder passed away in 1986 and added it to his collection of other unusual cars. It was declared the smallest street-legal automobile by the Guiness Book of World Records in 1993 and held the title for five years.

Although the car is small, it has all the components of a regular car, Gibson said. It has headlights, backup lights, heaters, windshield wipers and windshield sprayers.

“Everything that a car has, this car has on it,” Gibson said.

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