Lentil Festival brings residents together



Pullman firefighter Angela Teal hands out stickers to children visiting the Pullman Fire Department booth Saturday afternoon at the National Lentil Festival in Reaney Park.

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen reporter

Pullman residents and WSU students alike gathered this weekend in Reaney Park to celebrate the unlikeliest of legumes: the humble lentil.

For people new to the Palouse, the lentil might not stand out as a food worth its own musical line-up, parade and park filled with vendors. Many first-time attendees have never even heard of lentils before.

“That’s kind of [people’s] first reaction, ‘Well, what is it?’” said Ronee Nemechek, ta six-year Pullman resident who volunteered at the check-in booth during the festival. “They want to know, so just based on that – a lentil – that strikes peoples’ curiosity.”

Lentils are hearty, protein-filled legumes that grow on bushes. Much of the agricultural space surrounding WSU is dedicated to growing lentils, despite the common misconception that eastern Washington only grows wheat. About one-fourth of the nation’s lentils come from the Palouse region of Washington and Idaho, according to the National Lentil Festival website.

Vendors at the Lentil Festival are dedicated to demonstrating the versatility of lentils by putting them in as many dishes as possible. This weekend, the small seeds were put in everything, from smoothies to fried rice to chili dogs.

“[My favorite part is] the food … the German sausage was really good last night,” said Angela Teal, a Pullman firefighter and advanced EMT, while handing out stickers at the fire department’s booth Saturday afternoon.

The festival is also home to the world’s largest bowl of lentil chili, which was served free to attendees Friday evening.

The event attracted families, students and longtime Pullman residents with more than just the food, though. Live music, sports tournaments and cooking demonstrations held appeal for attendees of all ages and took place throughout the two days.

Lt. Col. Brendan Hobbs rides in a National Guard vehicle while holding hands with his daughter during the WSECU Grand Parade at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Main Street and Grand Avenue shut down for the WSECU Grand Parade on Saturday morning. Over 80 groups marched, waving pompoms, holding posters and handing out popsicles for audience members.

The Pullman Fire Department drove five vehicles in the parade and plans to use footage from it for a promotional video. The sheer number of people lining the streets was amazing, Teal said.

The parade closed with an appearance by Tase T. Lentil, the mascot of the festival.

To people who have never been to the National Lentil Festival before, celebrating a small food in such a large way can seem strange. However, the annual gathering isn’t just about recognizing an underappreciated legume but is a chance to meet and celebrate as a community.

“I had a great time getting to mingle with the whole community,” Nemechek said. “Everybody from all different areas of the community are here – big, small, campus – and everybody is just so happy.”

Longtime residents and attendees Evan and Janine Laubach have attended every year since the festival began in 1989 and look forward to the social aspect of the event.

“Last night we came down here, and we didn’t even make it through all the booths because we sat there and talked to people for such a long time,” Evan said.

The Lentil Festival is a time for residents to reconnect over something that is essential to the economic health and development of the community.

“The lentil crops and stuff like that are shipped all over the world,” Evan said. “So, it’s an international type thing.”

For those who question the purpose of celebrating lentils, regular attendees agree — the festival serves to bring people together in this small town.

Over the years, the festival has expanded extensively. Evan recalled the years when there was only a one block-long parade, with no vendors, music or sporting events.

“It’s been fun to watch it grow and continually add new things,” Evan said. “To get everything from the young kids to the other, old ages involved.”