California Artichokes - the Perfect Dipper for which VeggieDip was created...


Thistle launch


CASTROVILLE - Nature's Peak president Paul F. Wilkinson picked the ideal day to launch a new vegetable dip especially made for artichokes: the 46th Annual Castroville Artichoke Festival. “I created it from my addiction to artichokes,” Wilkinson said as he and his family and friends staffed a booth at the bustling festival. “We're all real' choke heads.”

The Santa Cruz-based company makes the dip from a litany of all- natural, nopreservative ingredients, including oil, garlic, herbs, anchovy paste and honey,
Wilkinson said. Wilkinson raced to get his product ready before the festival, adding that the first public sale of the $5.99 jars was on Saturday.

Apparently, his timing was right. “They're selling like hotcakes,” Wilkinson said as he added new artichokes to a pot. He had gone through six boxes of 12 artichokes each by noon Sunday, he said.

Nature's Peak was just one of many options for your average choke head - choices that included fried, steamed and artichoke burritos, along with multiple food stands, vendors, music and an artichoke-eating contest.

Sophia Chase, 4, was busy chomping on her favorite steamed chokes next to her
parents, John and Marcelle Chase, who came to the festival for the first time from
El Sobrante, in Contra Costa County. “We're going to stock up on artichokes
here,” John Chase said.

Sunday's festivities began with a parade down Merritt Street, with locals lining the
street to watch a mixed bag of marauding band members, cheerleaders and horses,
beginning with grand marshal and veteran cattle rancher Jim Rodriguez, 88.

The motley crew members of the Los Trancos Woods Community Marching Band spilled out of their bus from the South Bay to lend some noise.

The spoof marching band, founded in 1961, attends festivals throughout the area in outlandish costumes with a combination of seasoned musicians and “some people
that don't know what an instrument is” bandmember Rich Earhart said.

“They planned to appeal to the crowd with their own version of “Yes, we have no ... artichokes,” he said. Prunedale resident Diane Carrillo, who lived in Castroville when the festival began 46 years ago, brougt her mother Madeline Fore, 92, in her wheelchair to watch the Parade Sunday morning. “I think it's Just fabulous” Fore said. “There's real horses and everything.”

“Look at the horses!” a group of kids squealed in Spanish as the dancing horses of the group Asociacion Charros Los Amigos trotted past them.

The annual three-dimensional fruit and veggie art AGROart competition also garnered attention from young and old. From a tiered fruit and veggie “cake” called” a Vegan Wedding,” to first place winners “Queen-chokes Revenge” and “Octopus Garden,” the exhibit highlighted little known uses for artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce.

“I think I like the hammerhead shark the best,” said Barbara Frank, an Aptos
resident who checked out the veggie art with her year-old nephew, Zander. “We came really early, and we already listened to music and ate artichokes.” She said. “The AGROart is great.

Nancy Ausonio, on the festival committee and president of the Friends of the Castroville Library group, said festival attendance was up from last year. Ausonio, who volunteered at a busy stand to sell all kinds of artichoke fare, including shirts, postcards and stickers, has been involved in planning the festival for many years. It just keeps getting better and better, she said. “We also have a fantastic farmers market this year,” she said.

Paul Wilkinson, president of the Santa Cruz-based Nature’s Peak company, launched his veggie dip line on Saturday at the Castroville Artichoke Festival.

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