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Hastings, Minn., group organizes inaugural Midwest Tomato Fest based on famous Spanish festival

They've been doing it in Spain since about 1945. Every August, tens of thousands of people flock to the town of Buñol to chuck tomatoes at each other. This weekend, July 31, the tradition is starting in Minnesota.

Kevin Walker is one of five organizers of the Midwest Tomato Fest. Two of the other organizers had been in India on a service trip when a girl there asked them if they'd ever heard of La Tomatina, the tomato festival in Spain. When they looked it up and found out what it was about, they had the idea to bring it back to their home state.

"We wanted to keep it local," Walker said. "We're all from Minnesota."

The concept is simple. Twenty thousand pounds of overripe tomatoes have already been ordered, and will be deposited in a pit at Afton Alps. Snow guns will spray the area with a heavy mist, and the people will rush in to start pelting each other with soft, squishy, red fruit.

"What we wanted to do is create something unique, one of those wow-type feelings," Walker said.

At first glance, the whole event might seem like a waste. But the Midwest Tomato Fest is actually an event to raise funds to fight hunger. All the tomatoes are past their prime and deemed unsuitable for human or animal consumption.

"So no one's going to purchase them," Walker said.

Walker and his fellow organizers did purchase the tomatoes. Proceeds from the event will be donated to Fight Hunger MN and Dorothy Day.

The tomato fight itself will last about an hour, but there's more to the day than simply "getting sauced." The gates open at 11:30 a.m., and for the first hour, the Johnny Holm Band will play live music while people can get lunch from 12 food vendors and prepare for the fight. About 20 minutes before the fight starts, people will surround the tomato-filled pit, and the snow guns will start shooting mist. Johnny Holm will give a countdown, and the fight will begin.

After, people will be able to clean up under the snow guns and go back to the concert. The Cool Kids and SerGiO ROCKSTAR will perform, followed by Shwayze and Cisco Adler.

"It's going to be a really fun day," Walker said.

Tickets cost $30 if purchased ahead of time, or $40 at the door. They can be purchased at www.midwest The event is limited to those 18 and older. More information about the event is also available on the website.