Make a date to enjoy new Yuma festival

Celebrate Medjool dates in historic downtown Nov. 17

Though you wouldn’t think of the Old West as a place to find a traditional treat of the Middle East, the Yuma area is the world’s largest producer of gourmet Medjool dates – long known as the fruit of kings.

That’s why this town on the banks of the Colorado River is busy making plans for its first-ever Yuma Medjool Date Festival from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 17 in historic downtown.

“It’s going to be a celebration of food, fun, family and all things dates!” said Perlita O. Wicks, coordinator for the City of Yuma Heritage Festivals, which is organizing the new event with Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers.  “We’re going to kick off with free date muffins and coffee from 8 to 9:30 a.m., then serve up a whole day of everything you ever wanted to know about dates!”

That includes displays and demonstrations of specialized farm machinery developed specifically for cultivating and harvesting dates and an exhibit of historic pictures, artifacts, equipment and more at the Yuma Art Center, as well as a chance to ask questions of two of the area’s largest growers, Gus Nuñez and Steve Shadle.

But there will also be plenty of chances to sample date delights as well, with cooking demonstrations by local and international chefs – vote for your favorite dish — and a date milkshake contest that’s open to all. And you can leave the guilt at home, because Medjool dates are a “super food” that’s naturally fat free, high in fiber, potassium and anti-oxidents, and low on the glycemic index.  Bursting with flavor, chewy Medjools are so richly delicious that many first-time tasters can’t believe they have no added sweetener.

Shaking things up in a whole different way, Zarmineh Moody and the Jawhara Belly Dance Group will provide an exotic flavor to a daylong schedule of music and dance.  Vendors will offer festive food, art and collectibles, so this is also the perfect place to pick up a unique holiday gift.

In addition, festival goers can take a free tour of the nation’s most advance date packing facility, operated by Datepac, LLC – but because there are a limited number of tour slots available, you must register in advance at the festival website.

Dates are an important part of Yuma’s number one industry, agriculture – and even Saudi Arabia imports Medjools from our corner of Arizona, recognized by Guinness World Records as the sunniest place on earth.  Yuma’s ideal growing conditions mean that local growers don’t need to use pesticides or chemicals to produce a heaping harvest of these tasty treats – up to 10 million pounds a year that’s worth $30 to $35 million to the local economy.

“The date industry in Yuma touches our community in all kinds of ways, from the elegant silhouette the date orchards add to our views, to the inimitable flavor of a date shake,” said Juan Guzman, Datepac marketing manager.  “This festival is an opportunity for the whole community to learn more about the wonderful world of Medjool dates and the hard work our growers put into making this natural delight available to all of us – and all of the world.

“We’re excited about giving the whole community an ‘inside look’ at an unheralded side of our local ag industry,” Guzman added.  “Come down for a taste of something that’s uniquely Yuman.”


MAKE IT A WEEKEND:  The 22nd Annual Colorado River Crossing Balloon Festival takes off Nov. 16-18 from various locations around Yuma.  Sponsored by the Caballeros de Yuma, this airy festival draws balloonists from as far away as England and features flights Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and a “glow” Saturday evening.

Info:, 928-343-1715.

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