HAYWARD -- Mady Concessions of Bakersfield did a brisk business selling deep-fried zucchini at the 29th annual Zucchini Festival in Hayward on Saturday.

Tony Reynish, working the deep fryer, said his business originally sold onion rings exclusively, but began frying squash after people requested it.

The appeal?

"It's one of those vegetables that's awesome deep-fried," he said.

But there was far more to the festival held at Kennedy Park than just squash.

There was a "Kid's Town" with rides, balloons, face painting, carnival games and a stage organized by Jim Bedford Studios with preteen singers and dancers, some in elaborate costumes.

There were 24 food vendors selling barbecued meats, chicken skewers, tacos, fish and chips, and zucchini dishes.

About 100 additional vendors sold assorted arts and crafts as well as clothing, gourmet foods, toys and more.

There were also 30 or so community and nonprofit groups, including the Sulpher Creek Nature Center in Hayward, which brought several injured animals kept in captivity.

Among the animals was a gopher snake with a spinal injury and a Western screech owl, about 8 inches high, with one permanently dilated pupil.

Alameda County Vector Control was also there, with a black widow spider and a small wasp nest visible in clear boxes.


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Vector control officer Leslie Morra said the office was trying to encourage residents with rodent and insect problems -- including bedbugs -- to call for guidance and inspections.

The animals and critters drew spectators, though many more people turned out for the entertainment, which began with Reincarnated Revival, a young three-piece classic rock and blues group from San Jose, followed by blues and soul singer Willie G.

Phil "Fang" Volk, of Paul Revere and the Raiders, was set to perform both days while Bonnie Pointer, a founding member of the Pointer Sisters, is performing Sunday at 4:45 p.m.

The entertainment is what drew longtime Hayward resident Heidi Brown.

"I'm 36, and I've been coming here since I was about 15," said Brown, who brought her 13-year-old son, Michael. "I just enjoy the entertainment -- the music."

Rich Essi, event general manager, said the festival began in 1983 during an economic downturn as a way to generate revenue for community groups and give residents a fun local event.

Then-Mayor Alex Giuliani, Essi said, jokingly came up with the zucchini theme, but it stuck due to the popularity of people growing zucchini at the Hayward Community Gardens.

The festival is the second oldest and the biggest among 19 zucchini festivals in the country, Essi said.

About 15,000 people attended the first Zucchini Festival and some 20,000 people were expected this weekend.

"I think this weekend is going to be the biggest in a long time," he said.

if you go
WHAT: 29th annual Zucchini Festival
WHEN: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Kennedy Park, 19501 Hesperian Blvd., just north of A Street, Hayward
COST: $6 general admission, $3 seniors, juniors and disabled, kids under 5 free
INFORMATION: Call 510-278-2079 or go to www.haywardzucchini.org.