The California Women for Agriculture booth offers varieties of strawberries for taste testing during the 30th annual Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival, which runs through Sunday at the Santa Maria Fairpark. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Mayor Alice Patino served up bowls of berries along with tips on Friday during the 30th annual Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival

The festival, with the theme of “A Jammin’ Good Time,” runs through Sunday at the Santa Maria Fairpark.

Patino could be found at the California Women for Agriculture booth handing over bowls of the red fruit for festival goers seeking to participate in the taste test involving four varieties of the red gems.

“They’re so yummy,” Patino said. 

Some visitors were surprised when they learned about the tasting, offered for free from noon to 4 p.m.

“Isn’t that cool?” one woman asked a friend.

Visitors who left wanting more of their favorite berry received direction to the stand selling the fruit they ranked top.

“People love to come up here and taste the strawberries,” Patino said. “It’s funny how many different tastes people have.”

She also shared her favorite way to eat the Santa Maria Valley’s top crop: Dipped in a helping of sour cream, then a separate pile of brown sugar.

Derrol Vernon, 10, of Santa Maria celebrates his second place finish during the strawberry pie eating contest as competitors Vladamir Cruz and Katherine Cruz, who placed first, look on Friday afternoon.

Derrol Vernon, 10, of Santa Maria celebrates his second place finish during the strawberry pie eating contest as competitors Vladamir Cruz and Katherine Cruz, who placed first, look on Friday afternoon. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“Dip and dip,” she said.

A steady stream of tasters visited the booth to rank their favorites among the four berries: Driscoll’s, Daren’s Berries San Andreas variety, Manzanita Berry’s Well Pict and Mar Vista Berries’ San Juan.

During three days, the California Women for Agriculture expect to serve up to 4,000 bowls, each with four berries, to taste-testers thanks to the donations from the four growers.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” CWA member Ruth Jensen added. 

At a nearby table, Jensen offered berry facts.

“Did you know Santa Barbara County grows 40 different strawberry varieties and that 20 of those are proprietary?” Jensen asked.

A girl enjoys a ride during the Midway of Fun carnival, part of the 30th annual Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival at the Santa Maria Fairpark

A girl enjoys a ride during the Midway of Fun carnival, part of the 30th annual Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival at the Santa Maria Fairpark (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Or that the local berries are shipped to 13 countries around the globe, and that the crop accounts for a $500 million boost for the Santa Barbara County economy?

Local berries account for 79 percent of the strawberries enjoyed nationwide, she added.

But the festival offered more than facts, with berries served as shortcake, smoothies and in other forms.

A daily strawberry dessert-eating contest attracted ravenous competitors, who quickly gobbled up small pie overflowing with berries and a heaping tower of whipped cream.

Wiping the whipped cream off his face afterward, Logan Louk, 15, participated in one group, saying it was a chance to “just have fun.”

Cooking demonstrations by national radio star Diane Linderman , with strawberries as the centerpiece, also occur at 12:30, 2:30 and 6:30 p.m.

The festival offers up more than strawberries.

The Midway of Fun carnival and assorted strolling entertainers including stilt walker and balloon-animal artist also are part of the festival. 

New this year is the hands-on Ag-Ventureland, where children can learn about agriculture while gathering fake eggs, milking a mock cow, farming a field of corn or racing pedal tractors.

Festival gates will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

Saturday at the festival is Kid’s Day, with children ages 6 to 11 admitted for free. while Sunday is Fiesta Day, with a special fiesta entertainment planned.

General admission is $10 for adults or $7 for children ages 6 to 11 and senior citizens 62 years or older. Children 5 and younger received free admission.

Unlimited daily ride wristbands cost $30. Parking at the Fairpark is $7.

For more information or a schedule of events, click here.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.