Lebanon’s annual Tomato and Salsa Fest has found a new home.

The event was created by Trudie Bason in 2008 and was held at Timeless Gardens, which she owns. But the festival had outgrown her property, even with assistance from her friends in the Lebanon Garden Club.

The Lebanon Chamber Ambassadors stepped in to organize the event and Tomato and Salsa Fest 2018 was held on Saturday at the Optimist Gazebo at Academy Square.

“I was ready to accept that it was gone, but I’m glad it won’t be,” Bason said.

Cindy Ongers of the Chamber Ambassadors said the festival is a great opportunity to promote the city and put on a family friendly event.

“She (Bason) came to the chamber and said she didn’t want it to stop,” Ongers said. “We thought we could bring more business to our community. It was a win-win all the way around.”

The festival included a salsa competition, a tasting table with 25 different varieties of tomatoes, fried green tomatoes prepared by Bason and the Lebanon Garden Club, and several activities for children. There were also vendor booths with food, household and personal items for sale.

Members of the OSU Extension Service and Master Gardeners were on hand to answer questions about the different varieties of tomatoes and how to grow them.

The event drew people who had attended in the past and newcomcers such as KC and Shannon Suitsev.

“We just moved to Lebanon a couple months ago,” KC Suitsev said. “Saw the event on Facebook and thought it would be fun.”

That wasn’t the only reason.

“He loves salsa,” said Shannon Suitsev.

Several of the entries earned his approval.

“Honestly, most of them were really good. One of them, a pineapple salsa, was really good,” he said.

As Bason kept a careful eye on her fried tomatoes, she recalled how the festival came about. Every year customers would come to her nursery to purchase tomatoes and other produce. Inevitably, the conversation would turn to salsa.

“They would tell me how great their salsa was,” Bason said.

That spurred her to create a festival which would put those claims to the test. Thanks to the Lebanon Chamber Ambassadors, Bason knows that future salsa makers and tomato growers will have the same opportunity.

“I’m thrilled that someone decided to keep this going,” she said. “This is a great location. This gazebo is underused.”

After all the votes were tallied, Curt Stutzman won for best overall salsa and most unusual salsa. Kevin Ort won for the top hot salsa. Jeanie Wright took first place in the largest tomato competition with an entry which weighed 2.02 pounds.

Ongers estimated that more than 300 people attended the event and said the vendors were very pleased with the turnout.

“One of the vendors told me she sold out of everything. It was her best day ever,” Ongers said. “We’re very happy, especially since it’s our first year.”

The festival has always served as a fundraiser for various community projects. Proceeds from this year’s event will support the Lebanon Chamber Ambassadors leadership development programs.


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