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20th annual salsa competition turns out a crowd in Washington

Union photo by Gretchen Teske

Lucy Patton, 3, points out her favorite salsa during the 20th annual salsa competition at the Washington Farmer's Market on Thursday, Aug. 29.
Union photo by Gretchen Teske Lucy Patton, 3, points out her favorite salsa during the 20th annual salsa competition at the Washington Farmer's Market on Thursday, Aug. 29.
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WASHINGTON — The walking paths in Washington’s Central Park were lined with people anxiously awaiting to their chance to taste test during the 20th annual salsa competition at the Washington Farmer’s Market Thursday, Aug. 29.

Bob Shepherd, board member of the Washington Farmer’s Market, said he came up with the idea for a salsa competition 20 years ago because he was looking for a way to begin a new event every month, and needed one for August.

“The tomatoes, the peppers and everything else were in at that time and we were just starting to have some good representation form the Latino group so I said, ‘you know, salsa,’” he recalled.

He decided instead of having a traditional competition with specific judges, he would let the public be the judge and vote on which one they liked the best. The salsa is split into three categories, mild, medium and spicy, and had about 15 entries on Thursday.

Mary Whittaker, another board member, said seeing so many people come out to enjoy the competition is a success story to her because farmers markets are all about community.

“There’s lots and lots of people here and that’s what it’s all about is getting people up to the market and trying things out,” she said.

Traditionally, producers at the market bring things to sell. Through this competition, they get to bring something they’ve worked on and have it taste tested by their peers. That chance to grow and try something on a smaller scale is a great opportunity for people, she said.

Shepherd said one of those success stories happened within the first couple of years of the competition as it became the starting place for Cheryl’s Fresh Salsa, which is now sold in grocery stores in more than 7 states. He said when she traveled to other markets, she put her medallions on display from winning the salsa competition in Washington.

Seeing people be successful and grow from the competition is great, but his favorite part of the whole night, by far, is watching people interact with each other.

“People will try and say, ‘did you try this?’ and it’s just a blast. Everybody’s trying to show somebody, ‘oh I like this, I like this, try this,’” he said. “It’s just a super, super, fun contest and we just fell into it. We decided this is what we wanted to do, and it’s worked.”

Deana DeLong is on the Washington Farmer’s Market advisory board and said she enjoys that the salsa competition allows people to interact with each other.

“One of the reasons why I joined the advisory board was to get families to come downtown and stay downtown, bring families, have fun and enjoy the square,” she said.

DeLong said the board is constantly looking for ways to get people to interact with the downtown, for example adding food trucks and competitions, because she feels getting people to experience and stay in the area is important. Last year, there were nearly 300 votes cast for the competition. This year, the votes will be tallied up and the winner announced later this week.