AS grew up in Blenheim, Ontario, and attended this festival annually while growing up.
AS: “So, the area I grew up in, full of orchards, all kinds of tree fruits. And one of them was the Cherry Festival, and it was known because, I swear to god, people compete spitting cherry pits. And the world champion cherry pit spitter came from our town. We were like ridiculously proud of someone who could expel a cherry pit, like, a really surprising distance.”
The Blenheim Cherry Festival (identified in online sources as Cherry Fest) is a great example of the practice of festivals celebrating a key local industry. Since, like the AS stated, the area is “full of orchards, all kinds of tree fruits,” cherries are a large part of the culture of the town. The festival occurs in mid-July, the peak of cherry season in Canada. This peak falls later because the Ontario weather is colder than in many other cherry-growing areas.
One of the central activities at this festival is a cherry pit spitting competition. Immediately, this makes sense because it directly involves cherries, but it also makes sense on further levels. Where the entire festival celebrates the growing of cherries, a full industry that is not especially approachable or accessible to enter for the lay person within Blenheim. If you do not already work in the Cherry industry or own an orchard, it is difficult to start commercially growing cherries. So much of this festival has a clear delineation between the industry insiders who participate in the trade, and the festival attendants who are not involved in the industry, but may still connect with the town’s cherry-centric identity (or just enjoy a good festival). But the cherry pit spitting competition, while it is still centered around cherries, evens the playing field. Anyone can be good at spitting cherry pits; there is no need for start-up capital or a commercial orchard. This competition invites the non-industry lay person into taking an active role within the festival, and therefore invites them into the community of Blenheim.