BY SUSAN SCAFFIDI Contributing writer
The tumbleweed usually symbolizes dry, harsh conditions. But in Derby Acres, the tumbleweed is a symbol of pride and community, as the tiny westside town celebrates its sixth annual Tumbleweed Festival this weekend.
As an event, the Tumbleweed Festival is comparable to all other such annual celebrations for something a community is famous for: whiskey, roses, poppies, garlic. There will be food, music, bounce houses, a horseshoe tournament, motorcycle run, barbecue and a tumbleweed-decorating contest, vendor booths and all the other attractions one expects to see at an outdoor festival. But for Derby Acres and all the other communities in the westside -- Taft, McKittrick, Ford City, Maricopa and the other "Acres" (Dusty and Valley) -- the annual festival is also a celebration of solidarity for the otherwise isolated region.
"We're kind of an island out here by ourselves," said Orchel Krier, the founder of the event.
Krier, who is mayor pro tem of the Taft City Council, is also the owner of the Tumbleweed Cafe in Derby Acres, which lent its name to the festival.
He is also active in Taft's chapter of Rotary International, one of several service clubs supporting the region.
"(The region) is very blessed in having these great service clubs," Krier said. "They give so much to the community and bring so much pride."
"Without the service clubs, we'd be in a bad way," said fellow councilman Rod Waldorp, who belongs to one of the area's two Lions Clubs. Waldorp said there is also a chapter of the Soroptimist Club and the Kiwanis Club.
"Together, they do a lot," Waldorp said. "We take the money from the public and we give the money back to the public one way or another."
"It's a bunch of people having fun and giving back," Waldorp said.
Waldorp estimates the population of the "greater Taft area" to be about 20,000 people. Derby Acres has an official population of 366 people. The westside communities are located well off the main freeways of Highway 99 and Interstates 5 and 58; nevertheless they get a lot of traffic. A hot spot of activity thanks to the oil boom, those communities see a lot people during the week.
"It seems like half of Bakersfield works here," Waldorp said. "You look at 33 in the morning; it looks like L.A. traffic."
Waldorp said despite the influx of working people during the day, there's not necessarily a lot of long-term benefit. Those workers may spend some money for lunch or gas, but then go back to Bakersfield, Shafter, Arvin or other communities and those are the communities they support.
"There's not a lot of reason to come over here unless you're going to the coast," Waldorp said.
But there are hundreds of reasons to have this festival and the numerous other events that fill up the local calendar -- hundreds of children and their families who are in need.
"(The festival) is an old-fashioned festival we have to support the community," Krier said. "We're there to help the children, our future, including those who are challenged, and give them pride and self-esteem."
Krier said proceeds from the festival help other events such as the annual Christmas party, which last year benefited some 60 children in the area. As a main sponsor, Krier's cafe uses money generated from its food and beverage sales during the festival, along with part of the entry fees for some events, to pay for many of the festival's costs, and still is able to donate some of the remainder to local charities. Vendor booths are free, as is admission.
"I did this to see if this area can support another event," Krier said. "When we do festivals like this it builds up pride -- it's something they've never had like this before and they really look forward to it."