In Minot, it’s tomato time

Great Tomato Festival returns tomorrow night

Submitted Photo

The North Dakota State Fair Center’s 4-H Hall room is getting to host one of the community, charitable events of this and every year in Minot since 1989, when the Great Tomato Festival was established in by Jeff and Peggy Miller. The first Great Tomato Festival in 1989 had approximately 200 attendees and was an outdoors picnic (with plastic forks) at the Flickertail Garden on the State Fairgrounds. Due to its increase in size of popularity, it has moved indoors to the 4H Hall in the North Dakota State Fair Center and has an average attendance of nearly 1,000 (and upgrade to real forks)!

This year’s Festival takes place tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 9 beginning when the doors open at 5:30 p.m. to peruse silent auction items, followed by a 6 p.m. social hour, 7 p.m. dinner, and 8 p.m. live auction.

The summer gourmet picnic has become the ticket in town as the Festival has grown in popularity and success over the past near-three decades.

Tomatoes are the name of the game on a menu designed to feature the fruit (yes, fruit). The menu consists of smoked pork chops cooked to perfection, a top secret recipe of roasted tomatoes stuffed with rice, along with chips and salsa, tomato and cucumber salad, beer batter bread and brownies.

Also on the agenda for the evening are both the silent and live auction, a lineup of of live entertainment and plenty of memory making with friends and neighbors.

The Great Tomato Festival also serves a good cause, or rather three good causes. The fundraiser benefits the Minot Public Library, Taube Museum of Art, and Minot Symphony Orchestra. All net proceeds from ticket sales and the auctions are directly granted to the sponsoring organizations. Since 1989, over $436,000 has been raised.

Some tickets are still available for the big event. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Attendees must be 21 to attend. Advance tickets are available at Minot Public Library, Taube Museum of Art, Artmain, Interiors Plus, The Computer Store or online at

Minot Daily News sat down with one of the event organizers, Minot Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Ellen Fenner to ask a few questions about what makes the Great Tomato Festival great, year after year.

Tomato Festival? With all of the ag products grown in our region, how did tomatoes get to be the headliner?

Tomatoes have been growing all summer and are ready for harvest and during the Great Tomato Festival, we take time to enjoy harvested tomatoes in the form of salsa, stuffed tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes. Symbolic to the organizations, we work hard growing this event and are able to share the rewards with the patrons of Minot and NWND both during the event and through our outreach programs throughout the year.

Even with all the tomato products on the menu, it’s the pork chop that is local legend… why do you think that is?

Our Master Chef’s have perfected our legendary smoked pork chop for 29 years! Cooked on site, the smoked pork chop is not like one you will find anywhere else. Your taste buds will start to water as you walk up to the building and the smoky aroma fills the air.

What’s the difference between the live auction and the silent auction?

In the silent auction, you are the only one who knows when you out-bid the person before you. The live auction allows you to show your enthusiasm as you increase your bid and get that much closer to being crowned the “winner.” This years’ silent auction features over 300 items, which come from generous donors in the Minot community. This will be the first live auction for the Great Tomato Festival and features popular autographed memorabilia as well as great destination vacations and a few unique local experiences!

Do guests dress up for the event? As in suits and ties, and gowns; not tomato costumes?

As the gourmet picnic of the summer, we do not require suits, ties or gowns. Many people take this “date night” opportunity to wear something nice, while many patrons put on their “good jeans” or khaki shorts. As long as you wear a smile, we will not judge your attire, even if it is a tomato costume.

For those who have attended before, what, this year, will have people thinking “now that’s not something you see every year?”

We are so excited to offer for the first time, the live auction this year! In the past 29 years of Great Tomato Festival, there have been thousands of silent auction items, but we are glad to offer the first live auction for this event. We have some unique items including autographed memorabilia: “Frozen,” “The Avengers” and “The Godfather” movie art, as well as an Elton John record and a 2016-2017 UND hockey jersey. Local experiences include a conducting opportunity with the Minot Symphony Orchestra, a Penguin Zookeeper Assistant at Roosevelt Park Zoo as well as dinner and music with the Andersons. We also have a Royal Caribbean Cruise, Monterey Golf Experience, Classic Wrigley Field Rooftop Experience for a Chicago Cubs fan and a hot air balloon ride with wine tasting in Napa Valley!

How beneficial is the event for the organizations it supports?

Very! The Great Tomato Festival is a major source of funding for these non-profit organizations. Funds received from the event this year directly benefit the Taube Museum of Art, Minot Public Library and the Minot Symphony Orchestra. This event allows each organization to purchase supplies and equipment to support their organization to continue to support the Minot community and NWND.

How would a volunteer sign up to help organize the event next year?

Visit and be sure to follow Great Tomato Festival on Facebook to stay up to date and find out when it is time to sign up to volunteer. The tasks are simple, yet require the hands of many.

Tell us one fact about the Festival that might not be obvious just from attending?

Over 150 volunteers put this event together! Volunteers start at 9 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday preparing over 1,000 stuffed tomatoes, cucumber salad and appetizers. There will be volunteers buzzing around organizing the silent auction, community groups setting up tables and ensuring the real forks (not plastic) are polished and ready for your dining experience. There are no salaried positions related to the festival. Without all of our great volunteers, it would simply be a Tomato Festival!