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Behold round red fruits, and lavender, too

Hood River Cherry Days
by: Courtesy of Country Girl Fruit Farm, It’s practically raining cherries in the Hood River Valley this weekend, where Fruit Loop visitors can find the berries in everything from wine to salsa.

All things cherry will be honored in Hood River this weekend as farms, orchards, country stores and wineries celebrate the harvest of more than 4,000 tons of cherries.

In addition to ripe, delicious orchard cherries, farms along the 35-mile Hood River County Fruit Loop will offer a full slate of family-friendly activities including live music, art, kids' activities and cherry refreshments in many formats, including jam, cookies, pies, milkshakes, wine and more.

Cherry Karma's 'Purple Pit Stop' will have free activities for kids along with pottery and crafts. Alice's Orchard and Fruit Stand features a traditional Japanese Tanabata (Star Festival) with handmade origami, a wagon ride through the orchard and U-pick cherries. Try a cherry milkshake and cherry salsa at Packer Orchards' Cookie Stop. And the Fruit Co.'s Summer Cherry Celebration takes place one day only, with Saturday's offering of orchard tours on the 'Fruit Company Express.'

'I think that the reason that cherries are exciting to people is that it's one of the last remaining seasonal fruits, not imported from anyplace. It's Northwest,' says Dollie Rasmussen of Rasmussen Farms. She describes the cherry harvest as 'the official kickoff to summer.'

Hood River Cherry Days highlights many kinds of cherries, including new varietals Gibraltar and Lapin along with old favorites Regina, Rainier, Bing and Vanns.

Rasmussen says: 'There are many, many new varieties. I personally like to encourage people to try something different when they go to these farms and orchards that they don't see in the supermarkets.'

Two lavender farms around the loop also will celebrate the cherry harvest with activities involving the scent of lavender and sight of fluttering butterflies. The Lavender Festival in the gorge offers live music and art displays alongside thousands of lavender plants.

Visitors can learn how lavender oil is distilled, make a lavender wand or try a lavender-cherry scone. At Hood River Lavender Farms, it's 'Butterflies and Lavender: Dancing in the Fragrance of Summer,' with wine tasting, music, dancing, food, butterflies and U-pick lavender.

Visitors are encouraged to bring picnic lunches to enjoy along the loop.

- Suzie Ridgway

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (exact hours vary by location) SATURDAY and SUNDAY, July 8-9, Hood River County, 541-386-7697, complete schedule and map at www.hoodriverfruitloop.com, free