PIEDMONT -- Bill Ceasri took one look at the zucchini judged to be the largest at this past weekend's Piedmont Harvest Festival and thinks he may try to top it next year.
In August, the 74-year-old Piedmont native said he harvested a 2-foot-long cucumber, the dominant vegetable in a vibrant garden that also features tomatoes and string beans. Ceasri said he may plant later next year to compete, but said the festival is really about the people.
"We just like to see the community come together and see what we can grow," said Ceasri, who along with wife Ann attended the 15th annual event Sunday.
Hundreds gathered in the warm sun to ogle the backyard bounty of neighbors, taste homemade jams and pies and shop a farmers market complete with gourds, heirloom tomatoes, Indian corn and a variety of stone fruit.
Launched in 1999 by former Mayor Susan Hill and the late Bill Drum, the festival also featured a children's carnival with pumpkin decorating, face painting and a cake walk.
Scarecrows made by elementary school students formed a ring around Piedmont Community Hall, where residents filed in elbow-to-elbow to taste pestos, pickles and pies. The Piedmont High School Jazz Orchestra and other groups played jazz in the park.
The Ceasris, who met at Beach Elementary School near their home, attend the festival every year and think in 2014 they may try growing a pumpkin for the edibles competition. Pumpkins last longer and require less water, they noted.
The honor of largest pumpkin went to Irene Cheng, with Hill taking home the prize for largest tomato. Jennifer Marinelly won the first Bill Drum Sweepstakes Award for the most entries at 52. Drum died in January.
Students sold a hearty lunch of flank steak, sausages and veggie burgers, accompanied by Caesar salad and heirloom-and-mozzarella stacks. Police officers, firefighters and neighborhood watch leaders were on hand to answer questions and offer safety tips.
Festival Chairman Jerry Miller said even though the festival has grown tremendously since Drum and Hill founded the humble celebration, the event has retained a small-town spirit while also creating awareness about public safety and environmental sustainability.
"I was especially pleased to see how the festival has become more than a celebration, although it is a wonderful celebration of our connection to the natural world," Miller said.
For example, the Piedmont Middle School Green Team's Pollinator Pathway booth explained how residents can be part of the solution to "declines in native birds, bees and other pollinating insects," Miller added. "This Pollinator Pathway concept seems to be catching the imagination of young and old alike."
Jen and David Ferguson, who recently moved to Piedmont from the Lakeshore Avenue area of Oakland, attended their first festival with sons Ben and Theo. They marveled at a scarecrow made partially of Legos and looked forward to the cake walk.
"It's such a small-town feel, kind of what we were looking for," David Ferguson said.
To view the full list of edibles contest winners, visit www.piedmontharvestfestival.org.