If it weren’t for Proposition 13, there probably wouldn’t be a California Avocado Festival, the 30th annual edition of which goes down on the streets of Carpinteria this weekend. By the mid-1980s, the controversial property-tax-fixing measure was drastically limiting the City of Carpinteria’s budget. “It had a devastating effect on the nonprofits in the community,” said real estate broker and Avo Fest cofounder Debbie Murphy. “The city council used to dole out money to different groups, but that all dried up in one year. Everyone was scrambling.”
That included the Chamber of Commerce, where she was president. “Several of us on the chamber board got together over a bottle of wine at my house one night, and we simply invented the thing,” said Murphy. “It was big and bold for teeny Carpinteria at the time. We decided to call it the California Avocado Festival to make sure no one else would have one!” (Fallbrook in San Diego County, however, did actually launch one that same year.)
Unlike today, when every town has one if not many festivals, only the Gilroy Garlic Festival had a real template to follow back then. So Murphy and crew visited that, read their manuals, and fired up the Avo Fest in October 1986, giving organizations a place to raise money by selling food, drink, and more from their booths. “It was amazing that it worked the first time, and it was stunning that it was going five years later,” she admitted. “To have it be there 30 years later is just an awesome thing.”
She’s happy that the fest is still as inclusive as ever — “One year the Hells Angels showed up,” she laughed; “that made me happy” — and that the original leave-no-trace ethos lives on. “We wanted it to be impeccable, cleaner that it was before,” she said. “That might mean the volunteers are walking the streets of Carp until 2 in the morning, picking up cotton candy sticks and beer cans, but they do it.”
Like much of Carpinteria, she’s proud of their annual affair and remains surprised at the auxiliary effects, such as the time she was watching a performance of young girls she knew. “It hit me that I had no idea that this would become a platform for all these children who hadn’t even been born yet,” said Murphy. “It was a remarkable moment to see that.”
The California Avocado Festival is Friday-Sunday, October 7-9, in Carpinteria. See avofest.com.