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THIS FESTIVAL IS THE BERRIES 70,000 PEOPLE LIKELY TO ATTEND TWO-DAY EVENT.

Byline: Angie Valencia-Martinez Staff Writer

OXNARD - Jose Gutierrez spent Saturday feeding his pregnant wife chocolate-dipped strawberries.

But the cravings didn't stop there. Strawberry nachos. Strawberry pizza. Strawberry cotton candy. Everything strawberry.

``Lately, it seems all I ever want to eat are strawberries,'' Jessica Gutierrez said as she cooled off with a strawberry smoothie. ``I can't help myself.''

The pair were among thousands who flocked to the first day of the 22nd annual California Strawberry Festival, offering live entertainment, free rides and attractions, more than 40 food vendors and hundreds of arts and crafts booths.

The two-day festival - which continues today from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Strawberry Meadows in College Park in Oxnard - is expected to draw 70,000 people from throughout the state.

The event, which started in 1984, pays tribute to Ventura County's top crop - a $230 million-a-year industry.

``It's a salute to growers,'' said Charlotte O'Brien, festival manager. ``We're celebrating strawberries and they are here in abundance.

``People come back to the Strawberry Festival because it's familiar to them. It's old-fashioned fun.''

The festival, which serves as a fundraiser for several nonprofit organizations, draws so many people that it runs 39 shuttle buses from roadside parking locations in Camarillo and Oxnard.

The festival also features strawberry beer, strawberry shortcake, and other nonstrawberry treats such as Salvadoran pupusas and roasted corn on the cob.

For families, the festival offers a Strawberryland For Kids fun zone, pie-eating contests and other gooey features.

Alex Wells, 4, could hardly contain himself when a clown lifted him into the air - and Wesley Wells quickly snapped a shot of the happy duo.

Wells said he drove from Los Angeles to attend the festival with Alex and Laura Wilburn, 23.

``Mom and I came last year,'' said Wilburn. ``We loved the funnel cake. We haven't found it anywhere more delicious.''

Angie Valencia-Martinez, (805) 583-7604

angie.valencia(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, map

Photo:

(1 -- 2) Saray Zuniga, left, and Candy Valencia enjoy chocolate-dipped strawberries at the Strawberry Festival on Saturday, above. Below, Hope Lee, 2, contemplates taking a bite of corn dog next to the Berry-Go-Round ride at the festival, which continues today.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News

Map:

California Strawberry Festival at College Park
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 15, 2005
Words:379
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