HAYWARD -- The 30th annual Hayward Zucchini Festival celebrates the humble squash this weekend at Kennedy Park.

"We have a nice, family-oriented festival," said the event's general manager Rich Essi.

All things zucchini will be served at 22 food booths, Essi said, with an additional four serving beverages. "We've had stir-fried zucchinis, hot dogs with zucchini relish, deep-fried, kabobs, rice bowls relish with zucchinis. I insist on the food booths have at least something zucchini in it," he said.

Essi expects 18,000 to 20,000 people to attend the two-day festival, which is sponsored by the South Hayward Lions Club. The event draws people from surrounding towns in addition to Hayward.

There will be prizes for the largest zucchini, most unusual shape, and color. Entries can be dropped off Saturday, with judging at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Essi said the Hayward Zucchini Festival is the second oldest one in the state; the Gilroy Garlic Festival predates it by two years.

The celebration started in 1983 as a way to help out local nonprofit agencies. "The story goes that then-Mayor Alex Giuliani and the council were kicking around ideas for a festival at a barbecue at Giuliani's house. His wife asked, 'What are we going to have for a vegetable?' and he said, 'Just go pick some zucchini from the garden.' Everybody laughed, and somebody said, 'Why not have a zucchini festival?'

"The council then learned that zucchini was a popular crop in the community garden, so they said, OK, we can do zucchini, and everybody can make fun of it."

This year's festival will offering more than 150 arts and crafts booths, including ones featuring beaded jewelry, handwoven baskets, quilts, handmade soaps and pottery.

A popular feature is the Kids Town. Rides will include a rock wall, a bungy jump, an inflatable bounce room, an obstacle course, a giant inflatable slide and a kids' size mechanical bull surrounded by padding. "We'll have 10 or 15 rides. They're very safe," Essi said. In addition, there will be games and face painting. There is an additional charge for the rides.

A total of 14 bands will perform during the two-day celebration. "We have a Latin theme Saturday. Our old friend Bobby Escovedo passed away, and it's a tribute to him," Essi said. Sunday will feature rock 'n' roll and country music. "We'll have all local entertainment, and they're all good," he said.

More than 900 people volunteer at the festival. Instead of being paid, they donate what they would have earned to local charities and nonprofit groups. Over the years, the festival has distributed more than $2.5 million.

People bringing a can of food to be donated to the Salvation Army will receive a $1 discount on Saturday only. The discount applies to tickets bought at the festival entrance gate.

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.

Hayward Zucchini Festival
When: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Kennedy Park, 19501 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward
Tickets: $7; $4 for seniors, juniors and those with disabilities. Children under age 5 admitted free of charge. May be purchased in advance at The Cobblers, 22443 Foothill Blvd., Hayward, or at the gate.
More information: 510-278-2079 or www.haywardzucchini.org